Meet Joel and his parents, Jeff and Nancy. Joel has been diagnosed with Severe Apraxia, Severe ADHD, Hypothyroidism, Developmental delays (Moderate ID or Intellectual Disability), and velopharyngeal insufficiency. It is very difficult for him to speak clearly and impossible for him to make certain sounds, such as ‘K’ and ‘G’. Challenger League and the new Miracle League Field help many kids like Joel build skills to help them achieve their dreams, and allows them to do simple things that people all over the world take for granted, like playing baseball with their friends.
"It’s an opportunity for them to play, no matter what their ability is," Jeff said. "It’s an opportunity for the kid that may not normally be there.”
Meet Joel and his parents, Jeff and Nancy. They live together in Johnston, IA. Joel is nineteen years old and has been playing in the Challenger Baseball League since he was in the 4th grade. The Challenger League is a separate division of Little League Baseball that was established in 1989 to allow children with intellectual or developmental disabilities to play baseball. Challenger teams are set up according to abilities, rather than age, and can be played as tee ball games, coach pitch, player pitch, or a combination of the three.
The Urbandale Challenger League will play all their games on the new Miracle League Field that is being built. The new field is designed specifically for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities like those in Challenger. The Urbandale Challenger League will offer an adult league on the new Miracle League Field that does not age people out, so Joel will be able to play on the new field for as long as he wants.
“He played soccer in the Johnston soccer club when he started school, but when he got older around 4th grade the field got too big and keeping up with the other kids was going to be a challenge,” said Nancy, Joel’s mother. “We met one of the parents who was helping run the Challenger League at the time, and so Joel started playing baseball with Challenger.”
Joel says he likes baseball because he likes to hit the ball and run the bases. Joel likes all kinds of sports and whatever is the current sport is his favorite.
Joel has been diagnosed with Severe Apraxia, Severe ADHD, Hypothyroidism, Developmental delays (Moderate ID or Intellectual Disability), and velopharyngeal insufficiency. In velopharyngeal dysfunction (VPD), parts of the throat and roof of the mouth do not work right during speech. Joel does not comprehend danger because of his Moderate ID. With Apraxia, it is very difficult for him to speak clearly and impossible for him to make certain sounds, such as ‘K’ and ‘G’. The ADHD means he is on a high dose of stimulants every day and he is always "going". Because of the ID and ADHD, it is hard for him to make friends even though he is very social. Despite his disabilities, Joel is always happy and smiling.
When asked to describe himself, Joel said, “My name is Joel, I am smart, I smile a lot, and I am happy.”
“He is very social, and he like to help people,” Nancy said. “He knows more people than mom and dad do. We go to the grocery store, someone always says 'hi Joel!'. Everyone seems to know Joel.”
With Joel being an only child, his parents said it is awesome to get him to play baseball with peers and other kids his age. Joel has already made a lot of friends in Challenger, and looks forward to making more friends on the new field. The new field will be accessible to kids of all disabilities, providing an opportunity for new kids to join a league when they couldn't before. His parents said there is a lot of comradeship among the players, and it extends off the baseball field, as they often get together outside of games. He and his teammates also learn skills such as how to take turns, be friends, how to cheer for other people, and how to respect the other team while they play.
“I like when my teammates give each other high fives, and I have fun with them,” Joel said. “This year my goals are to hit the ball better and get a home run.”
“The main problem we have right now is the field is made of dirt and is not accessible to kids with certain disabilities,” Nancy said. “This new field will be built in a manner so the mud is not as big of an issue, and all the kids will be able to participate.”
Jeff, Joel’s dad, said he hopes that the new Miracle League Field will expand beyond just baseball games. He hopes that some type of parent-resource group or organization can be formed.
“I’d like to see something where guardians can ask questions and get answers about how to access specific resources, or how to deal with certain issues,” Jeff said. “A lot of the challenges we’ve gone through in the past is how to advocate for your child and accessing the resources available to help advocate. This new field provides an opportunity to address these challenges and possibly start programming to help parents out.”
Nancy and Jeff said they think the new field is going to be good for the community as whole. The families of disabled children will benefit from the field, and the entire community will be strengthened by joining efforts together to build the field. There is something special about a community working together for a charitable cause. This new Miracle League Field has the power to unite a community for the good of so many people.
“It is allowing kids that can’t participate in Urbandale Little League or Johnston Little League a chance to play in a sports league just like every other kid does,” Nancy said. “The joy on their face when they come to play, it’s worth it.”
“I hope there is a greater awareness concerning special needs kids and that it is realized that they have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else,” Jeff said. “They want to play baseball, they want to do other activities and have fun with their peers.”
Nancy and Jeff have hopes for their son, as most parents do for their children. They focus on his abilities rather than his disabilities. Joel has dreams of his own as well, and said he want to be a doctor, because he wants help people.
“I would like for him to be able to be self-sufficient,” Jeff said. “That is the ultimate goal. In-between there I’d like him to be able to live outside of our home, to be able to have that independence, to be gainfully employed.”
“We want him to be able to survive on his own,” Nancy said. “We want him to be able to do what he wants to do and be happy. We want him to be able to survive on his own so that we can know that if something were to happen to us, he’ll be okay.”
Challenger League and the new Miracle League Field help many kids like Joel build skills like independence and teamwork to help them achieve their dreams, and allows them to do simple things that people all over the world take for granted, like playing baseball and having fun with their friends.
“The number one thing from my standpoint is knowing that these kids have the opportunity to be more just like a regular kid,” Jeff said. “And to watch them improve, and hit the baseball and hit it hard, or when they score a run, just the joy on their face and the fun that they have is worth a million.”
“It doesn’t matter what a child’s disability is,” Jeff said. “We give everybody an opportunity to play, and if they can’t do something we help them. It’s an opportunity for the kid that may not normally be there.”
Jeff said that is what he’s hoping the new field will provide—an opportunity for children to play in Challenger when they couldn’t before, either because they couldn't keep up in other leagues or because they were in a wheelchair or a walker that made it difficult to access the dirt fields. He hopes the new field gives them their first chance to play baseball, which could then turn into so much more.
“We want to do everything we can for our son,” Jeff said. “I think every parent does, really. And boy, if you give them that opportunity, what else could come out of that?”