Local Nonprofit Enables Special Needs Children to Play Organized Sports
Last spring Nicole Kendall, a former local radio personality on WYRZ, was asked if she would become the Executive Director of League of Miracles, a nonprofit organization that provides an accessible complex for children five and up with special needs to participate in organized sports.
“They needed an ambassador to be out in the community and talk about who they are so that they could hopefully recruit more players, volunteers and sponsors,” says Kendall, who jumped at the chance to advocate for an organization that celebrates these incredible individuals’ abilities instead of focusing on their disabilities. Those children with physical, mental or emotional special needs come from all over Central Indiana, including Johnson, Morgan, Hendricks and Marion Counties.
The field, located in Camby, just south of 67, draws kids from Avon, Plainfield, Mooresville, Martinsville, Decatur, Monrovia and Indianapolis. Players may participate in the spring and summer league (which runs in June through the end of July), the fall league (which runs in September and early October) or both. The cost for each season is just $50, which gets every player a personalized uniform with their name on the back, a hat, a popsicle after each game and a medallion at the end of the season. Though this is a relatively low cost, Kendall recognizes that raising a child with special needs can be costly with therapy, equipment and more. So, no player will be turned away should they not have the finances to pay.
“We want to make sure that every child has a chance to play,” Kendall says.
League of Miracles operates with a buddy system on the field so they rely heavily on volunteers for children who need extra assistance.
“Some kids go up to bat, point to the fence to indicate that the ball will go over, and it does,” Kendall says. “For others, it’s a real struggle to play, but their buddies help them swing the bat, round the bases safely and make sure they’re having a great time.”
The league is non-competitive as the whole point is not to win but to play.
“We’re celebrating that they can play and that they can enjoy it like every other kid,” Kendall says.
And just as key: they don’t treat players like a child with special needs but rather like a child, period.
As soon as Kendall was recruited as executive director, she immediately identified her number one job — to fill empty bleachers. Part of the reason benches are vacant is simply because the general public doesn’t know the league exists. But there’s another component that’s key to share.
“We have children who play that are in social service or group-home situations. As a result, they have little to no family involvement,” Kendall says. “Every child deserves somebody in the stands cheering them on.”
Kendall regularly recruits volunteers to clap, holler and support the players. They’ve had Girl Scout troops, track teams and local school cheerleaders come out to the field to cheer.
“Some kids are initially apprehensive about volunteering simply because they don’t know what to expect,” Kendall says. “But once they come, they enjoy it so much that they always return.”
The league welcomes such community spirit because when the players see and feel the energy from the bleachers, their eyes light up.
“That kind of encouragement can be life-changing for these kids,” says Kendall, noting that encouragement breeds perseverance. “Sometimes when you try something and you’re encouraged when you’re trying it, you keep at it and that’s what we want them to do. We hope that carries over in other aspects of their lives.”
Carla Jo Ream is a community member who regularly comes to the field as a spectator.
“The kids are absolutely the best. It’s beyond heartwarming to see how much they love this and how much the volunteers put into this organization,” Ream says. “These children are able to do something they would never get to do without this facility.”
Kendall is seeking businesses who would like to sponsor a team. She also welcomes calls from churches and other organizations who may be interested in renting the field to host team-building softball or kickball games. The field is beautiful, thanks to the generous financial support of several area clubs and businesses. For instance, the Kiwanis Club of Mooresville raised $275,000 to go toward the $800,000 facility, which includes a specialized rubber-based field that enables players with walkers or wheelchairs to move around more easily, thus reducing the chance of injuries.
Currently, League of Miracles has about 120 participants who are primarily children and young adults. At some point down the line, they would like to add an all-adult league.
“We have some players who are technically not children anymore, but they function on a child’s level so we don’t put an age cap on our league,” Kendall says. “Right now we market to kids because most of them are between five and 20, but we have a few who are older.”
The name League of Miracles is appropriate because the transformations that take place on the field are often miraculous.
“The growth in these kids over the course of the season is astounding” Kendall adds. “Some of them, when they first start the program, you can read it on their face that they’re thinking, ‘No way am I going onto that field!’ It may take a couple of weeks of sitting on the bench before they work up the nerve to play, but once they give it a try, they’re hooked.”
One such example is of a little girl named Desimber who is nonverbal but still finds a way to get across her enthusiasm and appreciation for the league. Her mother told Kendall that Desimber often goes to the refrigerator where the game schedule is posted and signs “thank you” to her mom because she loves playing so much.
“That’s a great reminder of why we do what we do,” Kendall says. “Even those who can’t verbalize their emotions show us that they love having the opportunity to just be a kid.”
Another child who has been living with foster parents introduced his foster mother to one of his teammates by saying, “This is my mom.”
He had never done that before.
“We get to witness relationships growing and so many positive things,” Kendall says.
That’s precisely what lures Ream to the ball field.
“I love rooting these kids on,” Ream says. “You can see the beaming faces when people holler for them. Little Wesley who uses a walker always waves to the crowd when he makes his run. I just love the whole experience. I look forward to going every chance I get.”
To learn more about the League of Miracles or to get updated information on the March 8 spring fundraiser, check out @LeagueofMiracles on Facebook, visit them online at leagueofmiracles.org or email them at email@example.com.
The field is located at 7101 E. Landersdale Rd., Camby, IN. Donations, however, should be sent to P.O. Box 698, Mooresville, IN 46158.