WHEELING - Ohio Valley residents have good reason to believe in miracles, and about 250 of them had the opportunity to witness one on Saturday.
The Miracle League of the Ohio Valley officially opened its own ball field at the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex in Elm Grove at 10 a.m., marking the culmination of a five-year fundraising effort. Dozens of Miracle League players, their families, friends, organizers and other supporters from the community took part in the event under a sunny sky that created the perfect setting for the league's first two home games. Both ended with tied scores, making all the players winners.
Player Kelsi Weaver of Martins Ferry said she loved the new field and was excited to get to play games closer to home. The 11-year-old has been participating in the Miracle League for three or four years, traveling to places like Morgantown, Pennsylvania and Zanesville, Ohio, to play on fields that are designed for use by those with special needs.
IT’S GOOD — Pittsburgh Pirate Mark Melancon pitches a ball across the plate during opening day at the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley’s new baseball field in Wheeling on Saturday. -- Jennifer Compston-Strough
Miracle League fields consist of flat, synthetic rubber surfaces that are cushioned to help prevent injuries. Entrances, seating and as many aspects as possible are designed to increase accessibility. Volunteer "buddies" assist the players - each of whom gets the opportunity to score a run - in batting and traveling the basepaths.
Player Leona Camp, 11, and her parents, Birgitt and Don, also were impressed with the new field. As Leona practiced catching and tossing prior to the game, her parents beamed with pride from the sidelines.
Birgitt Camp said the family moved to Wheeling about three years ago and learned about the Miracle League last year. Leona's classmate, Austin McCardle, just happens to be the son of Lorraine McCardle - the driving force behind the field project.
"I think it's awesome. She did an awesome, incredible job," Birgitt Camp said of Lorraine McCardle's fundraising and organizing efforts.
Don Camp agreed, noting the view of Elm Grove and the surrounding countryside from the site is beautiful. He also noted that the materials used to construct the field are perfectly adapted to the needs of the players.
"They really put a lot of thought into it," he added.
The Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center of Wheeling collaborated with McCardle on the project, which began when Austin McCardle - who usually uses a wheelchair or walker to help him get around because he suffers from Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease - told his mother he wanted to play football. That prompted Lorraine to look for a sport in which he could participate; that's how she found the Miracle League and became determined that local children with special needs should have a facility of their own where they could enjoy playing baseball without traveling far from home.
Over the past five years, her effort to build such a field has been supported by the city of Wheeling, the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities, the Wheeling Newspapers, the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Run and Walk, A&B Kia, the Knights of Columbus, Undo's Italian Restaurants and hundreds of other local individuals and organizations.
Debbie Joseph, chairwoman of the Easter Seals board, said creation of the field was an "absolutely amazing" process. She said crews used a device similar to a small cement mixer that they filled with synthetic pellets and a glue-like substance. Once mixed, a surface material that she said was about the consistency of Rice Krispies Treats, was poured onto the field. She said every inch of the field was then troweled by hand to create perfect baselines and a smooth, even surface.
"It's a dream that's been so long in coming, it's kind of dream-like even standing here," she said Saturday. "The kids in the Ohio Valley all now get to play ball, even if they have special needs."
Lori Untch, president and chief executive officer of the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, thanked the more than 5,000 people she said have donated to or supported the project, and she commended Lorraine McCardle for launching the effort.
"You have done this, and it is truly amazing," Untch told McCardle.
In speaking to the crowd herself, McCardle pointed out that the field will provide special needs children and adults with many opportunities not limited to baseball.
"I want to thank each and every citizen of the Ohio Valley that has helped us," she said. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank you."
Among the crowd of more than 200 gathered for the opening, McCardle said there were 80 registered Miracle League players. "And it will just grow," she added.