Miracle League: From skeptic to leader, one dad helps kids with special needs play baseball
Posted June 12, 2016
Sure, Benjy Capps, a life-long baseball player and one-time member of N.C. State's baseball team, wanted his son to try the sport, but he really wasn't sure it was possible.
Micah, now a teenager, has cerebral palsy with weakness on the right side of his body. Back in 2006, when one of his son's doctors recommended that the family check out the Miracle League of the Triangle, Capps doubted Micah, then about 5, could handle anything like a baseball game. But Capps and his wife, who have two children, decided to give it a shot.
"I came in as a skeptic," Capps said. "I was blown away."
On a specially designed field for players in wheelchairs or with mobility issues, the game was designed to look and feel like any other one. They sang the national anthem. They announced the players' names over the loud speaker. There was walk-up music.
"It was so well put on," he said. "They really made it feel like a baseball game. It was very inclusive."
Fast forward a decade and Capps is more than just a dad in the program. He's executive director, watching his son play, coaching and leading a program that's growing and expanding. Miracle League of the Triangle is part of an international organization that provides opportunities for kids with special needs to play baseball. In the Triangle, the group serves 490 players - 430 kids ages 5 and up and 60 adults, many who grew up in the local program.
The league plays two eight-week seasons - in the spring and fall - on fields in Cary and Raleigh. Each player is assigned a buddy, who helps and protects the player and makes sure they do as much as they can on their own. Games are two innings and run about an hour. Teams are made up of players based on age, starting with the minors for preschoolers and kindergartners.
It's open to players, boys and girls, with any disability - from severe physical handicaps to cognitive delays. The group started an adult league last year, primarily to serve the kids who had aged out of the program. It also is beginning to pull from group homes in the area.
The program thrives thanks to an extensive network of volunteers. Last year, 1,000 volunteers logged in more than 6,000 volunteer hours. The program offers all kinds of volunteer opportunities for kids and families. Buddies, for instance, can be as young as age 12. Many of the baseball and softball teams from local high schools and colleges help out.
For the kids, the Miracle League is an opportunity to be just like any other kid for a moment. Capps tells stories of kids who didn't believe a game was canceled for rain and insisted their parents drive out so they could see the empty field. In another case, a player didn't tell his mom he'd injured his leg at school until after the game because he didn't want to miss it. It turns out, the boy had played the entire game with a broken leg.
Some kids are eager to get out on the field for that very first game. Others are hesitant.
"They always will have a great time," Capps said.
For the parents, it's an opportunity to see their kids just be kids. In fact, Capps encourages parents to sit back and let the volunteers do the work during the games. In the stands, they can chat with other parents with kids who are struggling with similar issues, building friendships, finding support and learning from each other.
"It's a tough job they have to do," Capps said. "It's a chance to sit there for an hour and let their kid be a kid."
For Capps, the job, which he took a couple of years ago, is a chance to give back. His father is the long-time president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Wake County. Capps had felt called to serve the community in a similar way.
These days, Capps has his sights set on growing the program to 1,000 players, reaching further into the special needs community in Cary, Raleigh and Durham. He currently is working on a third field, which could be built in the Durham and Chapel Hill area.
And, he's always talking to the skeptics - parents like he was 10 years ago who weren't so sure their child could handle anything like this. There are tears, Capps tells me, but it's mostly the parents who are reaching for a tissue.
"Tears of joy," he said. "It's such an awesome experience."
If you're interested in signing up your child to play on the Miracle League, registration for the fall season will begin in August. Sign up now for the email list to stay on top of schedules and deadlines. The Miracle League's website also has lots of information about how you can help out.
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