By Mike Pound
Hayden Harding has always loved sports.
The 7-year-old Joplin boy has grown up in a sports-loving family. His father, Matt Harding, spent several years coaching football at Joplin High School before turning to administration. Matt is now an assistant principal at JHS, but Hayden’s love of sports hasn’t abated. Now, thanks to the Joplin Miracle League, Hayden will soon, for the first time, get a chance to play himself.
The Miracle League of Joplin was formed to allow people ages 5 to 20 to play baseball. The league’s spring session begins April 27 and will run six weeks. All of the league games will be played at the newly dedicated Will Norton Field at the Joplin Athletic Complex. Will was a Joplin High School student who was killed in the 2011 tornado.
Hayden’s mother, Janel Harding, is a member of the Miracle League’s board of directors. Because Hayden has cerebral palsy and autism and is nonverbal, Janel said she can’t say for sure what the Miracle League means to her son. But she knows Hayden loves sports, and she is sure he will be thrilled with the chance to finally play baseball.
“He has been sitting in the bleachers at football, basketball and baseball games since he was a child,” she said. “He loves sports. Just let him run around on the field and you’ll see the joy in his face. Sports have always been a part of his life, and he has such a passion for it.”
A couple of weeks ago, the Miracle League began signing up players for the spring baseball season. Janel said that as of Friday, 16 players had been signed up to play. The league can function with only 16 players, she said, but the low number is a bit of a disappointment. Registration for the Miracle League runs until March 25, and Janel said the board wants to make sure as many children as possible get a chance to participate.
“I’m a little worried that parents don’t know about this (the league),” she said. “We don’t want, after registration is over, for parents to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about that.’”
Janel said it’s important for parents or guardians of children with disabilities to understand that all kids are welcome to participate in the Miracle League. If you have been reluctant to sign your child up for a more mainstream sports league, then the Miracle League might be for you.
“The sky is the limit,” Janel said. “We don’t think it’s fair to define exactly what is a disability or what is not.”
Since most people with disabilities spend their entire lives dealing with labels or definitions that, intentionally or not, ultimately work to undermine the potential, the last thing Miracle League organizers wanted was to get into the labeling business.
Miracle League baseball games will be played on Saturday mornings, and there are no practices. The cost to take part in the Miracle League is $50; there are limited scholarship opportunities.
For more information about the Miracle League and to register online, you may visit the league’s website at joplinmiracleleague.org.
The registration fee covers the cost of insurance, a league T-shirt and a baseball cap. Every participant is asked to bring his or her own glove.
As a parent of a child with special needs, Janel is a bit concerned about the $50 registration fee. It’s necessary, of course, to allow the league to function, but in a perfect world, it wouldn’t have to be. I asked Janel if I could sort of encourage folks out there, who can, to maybe chip in and sponsor a child.
“Oh, that would be great,” she said.
If you, your business or civic organization would like to help out, you can find a link for sponsorship information on the Miracle League website. If you happen to have any slightly used baseball gloves lying around, Janel said the league would be glad to take them off your hands.
Look, all any kid wants really is to be given a chance to play, and the Joplin Miracle League is giving area kids that chance.
I think that’s something.
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