Home Run Miracle: Grand Strand Miracle Leagues

By Leslie Moore

Home Run Miracle: Grand Strand Miracle Leagues

During this “Season of Miracles,” Sasee found a ball field and playground, on 33rd Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, where small miracles happen on a daily basis. This magical place is the home of the Grand Strand Miracle Leagues, where lives are changed and enriched through the joy of play.

Jennifer Averette, Executive Director of the Grand Strand Miracle Leagues, says “You have probably heard of the classic 1947 holiday movie, Miracle on 34th Street. Here at the Miracle Leagues, we celebrate our own “Miracle on 33rd Avenue.” Why? Because when a child with special needs hits the ball on our field; when they hear the cheers of the crowd and cross home plate, it is a miracle. We see miracles happen on our field during every game, and we see it in the faces of our players with special needs. Imagine not being able to play a sport… neither can we. Everyone deserves the chance to play.”

The Grand Strand Miracle Leagues is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit which provides organized team sports for mentally and physically handicapped children and adults. The facility is adapted for wheelchairs and walkers and is equipped with handicapped-accessible bathrooms. The location of the field behind Pepper Geddings Recreation Center enables Miracle Leagues players to come out to play just like their peers, in a safe, encouraging environment.

Currently the nonprofit is offering Miracle League Baseball; Miracle League Soccer; and in 2015, a brand new sport, golf, partnering with the First Tee of the Grand Strand. These sports are complimented by a variety of fun and fitness activities at the all-access playground, “All Star Park” which is open to the special needs public at any time upon request. Currently players range in age from 4-42!

Founded 13 years ago by local businessman Dr. Paul Booth of The Booth Company, Inc., the Grand Strand Miracle Leagues’ field is fashioned after the first such league developed in Conyers, Georgia. It features an all-weather track-type surface that makes it easy for wheelchairs to circle the bases.

Dr. Booth saw a sports TV special with Bryant Gumbel called “Real Sports” and felt Myrtle Beach had to have one. Dr. Booth initiated the project, brought other local business people like Raymond Schild and Carson Benton and his family on board, and put the needed resources behind the effort. Mr. Benton helped raise the $125,000 to build the special surface, and the first games were played in spring of 2002 at this field of dreams named for his father, the James C. Benton Miracle League Field.

“We were the 2nd Miracle League in the nation. Now, there are over 275 Miracle League’s across the world,” Jennifer said with pride. “We currently serve 135 individuals in our Saturday baseball league program; over 300 Special Needs students in our School Day program; and 60 children in our soccer program and 25 in golf. We maintain strong ties with the Autistic community — offering SOS the use of our facility for their summer programs; and also with the Grand Strand Down Syndrome Society. We continue to reach out to group homes for mentally disabled adults to offer our programs to their participants. Finally, we remain committed to cooperation with Special Olympics by sending our Mariners Team of athletes to the Summer Games to compete in softball.”

Jennifer added that the parents are the real heroes and shared a wonderful story from a Miracle League mom. “Miracle League has given my son a sense that he CAN belong to a group and not be picked on or ridiculed. He had always wanted to play a sport (baseball especially); but was always told there was no room on the team for him or he was made fun of.  Miracle League has given him the opportunity to do something he loves to do and feel like he fits in.”

The Grand Strand Miracle Leagues are funded through grants, fundraisers and individual donors. Players from Horry and Georgetown Counties pay nothing to play and are given uniforms, equipment, trophies and even hot meals on game days. Hundreds of volunteers help make dreams come true, including players from CCU men’s baseball, women’s softball and the soccer teams. GSML also has two resident celebrities that volunteer regularly, Reggie Sanders, former MLB player and Andre Davis, former NFL player. They bring in sports celebrities once a year for a special game, and raise money for the nonprofit from their Celebrity Golf Tournament.

Jennifer said any interested players can visit the website and click on “Play” to sign up. The next spring season will begin in March. “Players of any age and ability are welcome. We are always looking for new players.” Executive Director since August of 2014, Jennifer feels her work with Grand Strand Miracles Leagues is a special blessing in her life as well. “It has been a humbling and heartwarming experience.”

Sasee readers who would like to help can do so through a tax deductible donation, by volunteering to “buddy” a player or by providing a meal on game days. Visit grandstrandmiracleleague.com or call Jennifer at 843-448-7712 for more information. Donations may be mailed to: GSML, PO Box 7503, Myrtle Beach, SC 29572.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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