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Franklin league wants 'field of dreams' for special needs athletes

Posted March 30, 2013

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— Two years after it began serving Franklin County, a baseball league that makes dreams come true for special needs children is looking to upgrade its facilities and better serve more than 50 children who now live for the excitement of playing the game they love. 

Things started modestly for the Miracle League of Franklin County in 2011, but rapid growth has increased the need for a safe space for athletes – a field of dreams.

Organizers now hope to build a rubber field, wheelchair-accessible playground and more adjacent to Long Mill Elementary School in Youngsville. Dirt, rocks, raised bases and other features of standard fields can be hazards for children with different physical abilities, and the current field is not handicap-accessible.

Parents say having the money to build the dream field would be an ultimate miracle for their children. As of Saturday, the group has raised 75 percent of the $350,000 needed to build the field.

"Kids are out here enjoying baseball, I would venture to say more than some professionals," parent Henry Jernigan said. "When they get a hit and everybody gets excited, that is what life is about."

Jernigan's son Pierce, 10, doesn't let being restrained to a wheelchair by spina bifida slow him down a bit. 

"I just like playing ball. This is my second season," he said. "I like meeting friends and all that stuff."

Founder Donna Wade, who has a daughter with down syndrome and another with autism, said the social aspect of an accessible field and playground would do wonders for local children. 

"Socialization is one of the big things with kids with disabilities," she said. "That's one of the things we want kids to do is be able to socialize with their peers and non-disabled peers." Franklin County Miracle League Baseball league offers life-changing experiences for special needs athletes

Elaine Hanzer agreed, saying her son, a 9th grader, becomes a different person when he's playing baseball. 

"Getting ready starts on Wednesday, and it goes on. The highlight of his week is Saturday morning when he gets to put the Red Sox uniform on," she said. "When he puts that uniform on, he changes. He's that guy that makes him like everybody else. All the athletes he's seen with my daughter and on TV, he feels like he's a part of them."

Hanzer added that the field would create a nurturing atmosphere for the athletes, making them feel special. 

"There is always something out there that will make him feel less important," she said of her son. "Putting him in a stadium that would make him feel like, 'Hey, this is how good we are.' As people, where we have all come together and made it happen. He will think he is out there in a Major League baseball game."

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