A Miracle Project

David Fain
Director of Public Works
City of Haltom City, Texas
Member, APWA Facilities and Grounds Committee

Over the last few years, the City of Dublin, Ohio, already known for its emphasis on parks, has gone the extra mile to serve a special sector of the community. In August 2005, the City opened its own Miracle League Field. This facility, operated by the Miracle League of Central Ohio, is designed so that children with all types of mental and physical disabilities can experience the joy and benefits which come from playing a simple game of baseball. Adjacent to the Miracle Field, the City provides a venue, which includes the Miracle Playground completed in October 2007. The playground and the field are enjoyed by children of all skill levels and are geared towards serving children with special challenges.

The Miracle League of Central Ohio is an organization designed to promote baseball to all children as a fun All-American activity while removing the competitive aspect. This allows everyone to enjoy participating without feeling the pressures of needing to win the game. Everyone wins in the Miracle League! Every player gets a turn at bat every inning, and all base runners are safe. Every player scores before the end of the inning, and the last player at bat receives a home run. Buddies consisting of community children and volunteers assist players as they round the bases, and each team and every player wins every game.

  Aerial view of the Miracle Field

The idea of the Miracle Field and Playground started with Dublin resident Terry Lyden. In October 2004, Mr. Lyden approached Mayor Marile Chinnici-Zuercher about the possibility of constructing a Miracle League facility in the community and the desire for the City to assist by donating land for the field and playground. With a commitment for the land from the City Council, the next step was to begin raising money and creating partnerships within the community to build the facilities. In only ten months, Mr. Lyden's vision became a reality with the opening of the Miracle Field in August 2005.

Since the field and the playground are specifically catering to children with a varied range of abilities, several considerations were worked into the design. Some players may be in wheelchairs, blind, or suffering from a multitude of other challenges that might affect their mobility. For this reason, the surface must be completely flat. It must also be a balance between a surface soft enough to provide some cushion for children who might fall and hard enough to support a child in a wheelchair. In order to serve all these needs, the surface is made of asphalt with a rubberized top, much like the material used for Olympic tracks. All markings are painted onto the surface, and seams are kept to a minimum. This provides the safest and most workable environment for all children to enjoy without risk of injury.

Circling the bases is no problem because of the Miracle Field playing surface.

The field, the first Miracle Field in Ohio, includes painted base paths, bases, batter's box, pitcher's mound, and home plate. Extra-wide dugouts built at ground level accommodate wheelchairs, with fencing located to prevent balls from entering. Behind the backstop, there is a wheelchair-accessible safe area for scorekeeping and announcing, giving children an opportunity to handle these tasks as well. The venue also includes bleachers and restrooms, all ADA-compliant.

The nearly one-acre playground features an undulating, looping sidewalk, a race track, a merry-go-round, sway fun, rotating saucer, accessible swings, an upper body strengthening area, a sizable musical section, sensory items, and an elevated sand box. All play areas and equipment are wheelchair-accessible, and a composite play structure is set under a large shade structure for children with sun sensitivity. The Dublin Miracle Playground mission states that they are "committed to building community partnerships...to building their souls, expanding their minds, thrilling their senses and improving their lives." It appears they are well on their way to achieving their mission.

The cost to build a Miracle League Field is estimated by the Miracle League national office to be about $500,000. The national office suggests a field size of 15,200 square feet, measuring 115 feet from home plate to the center field fence. Officials in Dublin decided they wanted a larger field, so their field measures 20,000 square feet, measuring 135 feet from home plate to the center field fence. With the inclusion of lighting, the grandstand, dugouts, a picnic and pavilion area, a parking lot, ADA-compliant restrooms, and private changing rooms, the cost for the Dublin Miracle League Field rose to approximately $950,000. The playground is estimated to have cost about $275,000.

The City of Dublin kicked off the fundraising efforts by donating the land for both the field and the playground, and in staff time and expertise. The citizens of Dublin and the surrounding communities have made cash donations to support the projects as well, and local businesses have made in-kind donations such as engineering, design and coordination efforts. Maintenance and upkeep of the field and playground are the responsibility of the City as well as payment of utilities. Although these projects are more expensive to undertake than most other park projects, the long-term benefits to the community, and especially the children within the community, are far-reaching and long-lasting.

  A participant takes a swing.

One of the major goals of these projects is to promote social interaction between children with special needs and typically-developing children. Locally, organizers estimate about 20,000 children in central Ohio benefit from the playground and the field. Some of these children drive across the state for their Saturday baseball games and to play with their friends at the playground. Some spend the rest of the week coping with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, autism, or other life-altering disabilities. But for an hour or so on weekends, they get to experience the thrill of putting on a uniform, stepping up to the plate, and running the bases as the crowd cheers. The playground also promotes social interaction between children with special needs and typically-developing children, giving them the chance to have fun and get some exercise. These facilities cannot change or cure the medical issues life has dealt these children, but they can and do have a positive impact on their lives in a way that cannot be ignored.

To consider a project of this magnitude may seem overwhelming, but perhaps Fred Hahn, Dublin's Director of Parks & Open Space, summed it up best when he said, "Not only is the product outstanding, the process itself was most enjoyable. To participate in a project with so many highly motivated, tenacious and generous individuals was definitely more pleasure than work. If there is any doubt to whether this endeavor was in the general public's best interest, one game-day visit would alleviate any questions."

For more information about the Miracle League of Central Ohio go to www.ohiomiracleleague.org, and for more information about the Miracle Field and Playground see the City of Dublin's website at www.dublin.oh.us.

David Fain is a member of the Facilities and Grounds Technical Committee and a former Director of the Texas Chapter's North Central Branch. He can be reached at (817) 834-9036 or dfain@haltomcitytx.com.