Courtesy: Joe Browning UNCW will help the Miracle League of Wilmington when the Seahawks battle Hofstra on Saturday at Brooks Field
By Samuel T.O. Branch, Post-Graduate Assistant
WILMINGTON, North Carolina - UNCW will help the Miracle League of Wilmington climb one step closer to its goal of building a specialized baseball field and playground for disabled persons in the Port City when it hosts "Miracle League of Wilmington Day" Saturday afternoon when the Seahawk baseball team takes on Hofstra.
The Seahawks will wear special orange jerseys that will be auctioned during the contest, which begins at 2 p.m. at Brooks Field, with all proceeds going to benefit the cause. Donations will also be accepted and supporters will have an opportunity to learn more about what the new field will mean to the greater Wilmington area.
Over the past year, the "Wilmington Believes In Miracles" campaign has already raised 87.5 percent of its goal of $1.2 million to build the accessible facility at Olsen Park, located off Murrayville Road close to I-40 just north of Wilmington. The 32-acre park already contains five regular baseball and softball fields, restrooms, parking and a picnic area.
With the monetary goals nearly met, the project, which has been in the works for four years, is tantalizingly close to becoming a reality, according to Dan Johnson, UNCW Associate Professor and Chair of ACCESS of Wilmington, the non-profit organization developing the Miracle League of Wilmington program.
"We hope to break ground later this month," Johnson said. "We hope to completely meet our goals financially later this summer, which should allow us to open the facility in September."
The main attraction is the specialized field, made of a flexible rubber, non-latex material. The area is completely flat, as the bases and other field staples are painted onto the surface. These elements allow for a safe playing surface for all.
"I see all of these kids at games and spectators, but with this they can get out there and be participants," Johnson said. "Some children have been on many different teams, but these kids may have never had the chance to be on one."
The field's fence is set at 180 feet, which is larger than most Miracle Fields, such as the 115-foot locations in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C. The fence can be removed, allowing the complex to easily cater to sports other than baseball.
The facility also includes a wheelchair-accessible playground, with state-of-the-art accommodating equipment. "It is easy to see the value in this project. These kids are going to get opportunities they have never had," Johnson said.
And plenty of Wilmington residents have seen the project's worth, pouring in the support both financially and otherwise.
"The general contractor is working on the project for free, the dirt guys are moving the dirt for gas money and the architects have volunteered," Johnson said. "People are really coming together for this project."
Now UNCW baseball joins in to do its part for the Miracle League of Wilmington.
"This was a tremendous opportunity for our program to get involved," said veteran UNCW Head Coach Mark Scalf. "Every individual should have the opportunity to play sports if they choose to. We're excited to be part of this."
If fans can't attend the 2 p.m. conference clash between the Seahawks and Hofstra, more information about the Miracle League of Wilmington can be found at the organization's website at http://www.miracleleaguewilm.org/.