BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - For 10 year old Mary Claire Cheatham, days are dictated by routine.
“If there are surprises, it affects her whole day in a way that she’s not really able to function after that,” explained her dad, Steve.
Mary Claire was born with several holes in her heart. Doctors believe because of that, she was only getting about 20% of the oxygen her body needed. She underwent surgery before the age of 3 to repair her heart. However, her parents explain that she was left developmentally delayed as a result. That’s why consistency is key for her to have a full and happy day. Her parents say it’s just one example of the challenges that can come with raising a child with special needs.
“Living a life with special needs kids, you roll with the punches, and the punches are hard,” said her mom, Katie.
When those punches get hard, sometimes all you can do is swing back. The Miracle League at Cypress Mounds allows families like the Cheathams to do just that.
“The whole mission of the Miracle League is every child deserves to play baseball,” said Dustin Polito, executive staff for The Miracle League.
The Miracle League started in 2011 with about 20 kids with special needs. It was the idea of the Polito family, who saw a similar program in Texas and decided kids of all levels and ages in Baton Rouge deserved the same chance to play ball. Today, they have more than 100 players, playing games twice a week in the spring. Even their dedicated field at Cypress Mounds is built to accommodate players of all physical abilities, including those who use wheelchairs or need assistance walking.
“This is definitely filling a void that these kids are out there, and they are seeking opportunities to come out and play games just like their healthy peers," said Polito.
Every child is paired with a buddy, a volunteer to guide them through the game and help them out. Polito says the entire program runs off donations and volunteer hours, and there is always a need for both.
For the families, it’s a chance to just sit back and enjoy a game, something the Cheathams say most of us take for granted. Mary Claire especially is a big fan of sports and her dad says this gives her a rare chance to watch and participate.
“It’s great for us to have an environment where we can go, where we don’t feel like anyone is looking at Mary Claire as a burden. Everyone’s out there for the same goal, which is for those kids to have a great time," said Steve.
The teams are grouped by age, and they even have players into their 30s. They don’t really keep score, but it doesn’t make the game any less real or the camaraderie any less genuine.
“We’ve had some kids that their parents have told us that the first time their kids were invited to birthday parties was from kids they played on the Miracle League with,” said Polito.
Baseball is a special game for a lot of reasons. For these kids and their families, it’s the fact that it’s so routine that makes it so amazing.
“I just like people, talk to them and play with them, and having people to play with me. It’s kind of fun,” said Mary Claire.
To join, help out, or learn more about The Miracle League, click here.