We stood for the pledge of allegiance. An announcer introduced the line-ups—the players who were dawning their uniforms proudly—and declared, “Play ball!”
At the Charleston Miracle League, children and adults with disabilities are given the chance to experience one of the greatest pleasures in sports: the feeling of hitting a baseball. But if you ask Charleston Miracle League founder, Channing Proctor, this isn’t about baseball. "Baseball is the backdrop, but it's really just a way to get everyone together: the parents, the kids, their families and buddies. It's all about the cheering," he says.
Charleston Miracle League President Erin Davis agrees, “A lot parents think their child doesn’t know how to play baseball, but it is for everybody. It’s more than baseball, it’s a memory that we’re creating.”
When I first got to Joe Griffith Memorial field, I was told I could find Channing Proctor by looking for the biggest guy on the field—and he was. He is a Citadel baseball alumnus, which made the Miracle League a good fit for him when he moved back to Charleston from Atlanta in 2002.
It wasn’t easy to get started at first, though—to put together a field that would cost over $250,000. "I had never started a company or a nonprofit—I had to get funding wherever I could find it," he explains.
Channing began the process of assembling a board of directors, but it proved to be much more difficult than just calling up the local big swingers. And then Channing got his first big fundraising idea by way of a midnight blue 1965 Ford Mustang that was collecting dust in his garage. When The Miracle League raffled off the Mustang, it raised $25,000 and the needed media attention that got the phones ringing. Now, the Charleston Miracle League is fully operating with three part-time employees, a board of directors, and two seasons of baseball a year for both children and adults that also offers trips to Atlanta and Baltimore.
The league’s continued success is primarily due to the volunteers who come out every Saturday, much like the group of high school boys who showed up just a couple minutes before the line-ups were announced the day of my visit. At first they looked a little nervous and unsure, but before the first inning was over, they were all offering piggyback rides around the field to their new buddies.
The first time Erin Davis volunteered, she had a similar experience.
“I was actually late, so I wasn't able to be a buddy, but I stood in the dugout and was able to see how excited these kids were. It did something to me inside. It was amazing,” Erin remembers.
At the time, Erin was a physical therapy student at MUSC. She eventually applied to become a league director, and after three years she was offered a board member position. Erin is president now, and like many nonprofits, that means she wears a lot of different hats: making sure grants are applied for, raising donations, recruiting participants, directing board meetings, answering e-mails, and heading their big spring fundraiser, “Bridging the Gap Through Baseball” in association with the Cooper River Bridge Run.
I watched a majority of the game with Channing, which was like watching a proud parent at any sporting event: proud of the league that he has helped to create with a strong sense of community, but also of his own son, Nashton. The first game at Griffith Memorial Stadium was played in 2004. Nashton was born in 2007. Channing affectionately calls Nashton, “life’s ironic curveball.”
We watched on, among the house organ music, as Nashton got his first hit of the game. Later, when Nashton crossed home plate, his proud father cheered for his son, trying to get his attention.
"Way to go Nash! Nash—”
But Nashton is distracted, because like any six year old, he's excited to get back to the dugout where his friends are waiting to give him high fives.
October is National Autism Awareness Month, making now a great time to volunteer at the Charleston Miracle League. You can sign up to volunteer online at http://www.charlestonmiracleleague.org. Parents can sign up their children, absolutely free, at any time with rolling enrollment.
Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the Charleston Miracle League.