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Published: Thursday, 5/25/2006

Northwood considers land gift for baseball field

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When Northwood resident Casey Sybert heard that a Miracle League baseball field may be built in the city, she said she actually teared up a bit.

Her six-year-old son, Austin, loves to swim and wants to play baseball. But dirt and stone fields aren't conducive to rounding the bases for someone like Austin, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

A Miracle League baseball field, on the other hand, is custom-designed with a cushioned, rubberized turf, wheelchair-accessible dugouts, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually impaired players.

"He wants to play ball," Ms. Sybert said of her son, who attends Lark Elementary School. "To bring it right here in your own area is neat."

The Miracle League was formed in 1998 in the Atlanta area to provide opportunities for all children to play baseball regardless of ability. Soon after its formation, officials decided to build custom-designed fields to meet the unique needs of players.

In the Miracle League, every player bats once each inning, all the base runners are safe, every player scores a run before the inning is over, volunteers serve as "buddies" to assist players, and each team wins every game.

"What an awesome idea to let these children play the same types of games as children without disabilities," City Administrator Pat Bacon said. "This is a bigger deal than I ever imagined."

After the league received local and national attention, similar leagues began cropping up all over the United States. There are now 145 Miracle League Organizations across the country and dozens more under construction, said Diana Alford, the league's national executive director.

She said the closest Miracle League field to northwest Ohio is one north of Detroit in Southfield, Mich.

In Ohio, Ms. Alford said there is a field in Dublin just outside Columbus and in North Royalton south of Cleveland. Two are under construction in Cincinnati, and another is being built in Massillon, Ohio.

Northwood hopes to soon join the communities with a field under construction, Mayor Mark Stoner said.

He said Northwood City Council had a first reading on an ordinance leasing two acres of city-owned property at Brentwood Park to the nonprofit Northwest Ohio Miracle League for just that purpose.

Council has already gone out for bid on one or two baseball diamonds in the same area of the park where the customized field could be built, if the measure is approved.

Council has asked to see the purchase agreement, and may vote to lease the land to the league at tonight's 7:30 p.m. meeting.

The ordinance is before council because Jeff Barton, a Toledo resident who grew up in Northwood, approached Mr. Stoner with the idea about a month ago after researching the possibilities.

The mayor said he turned around and took the idea right to council.

"I thought this was too good of an idea," he said. "This is just another way for us to serve all of our residents."

If council approves the ordinance, Mr. Barton said he'd work on developing a board of directors for the group that's in the midst of establishing its nonprofit status so fund raising can begin.

A Miracle League field costs between $500,000 and $750,000 to build, and all the money would come from donations.

If the field is built, Ms. Sybert said her son would be one of the first who would want to sign up.

"How could anybody be against this," the mayor said, as he teared up himself. "This gives all kids a chance to be just like their buddies."



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