Playing for smiles at Miracle League

May. 18, 2013 @ 10:02 PM

The scores Saturday morning at the Louisburg High School softball field don’t matter so much.

No outs are recorded, each player bats and everyone gets a hit in the Miracle League of Franklin County. No stranded runners here. Homer, the mascot with a giant baseball for a head, cleans up the bases at the end of innings.

The league is best characterized by the fellowship and smiles that come along with providing special-needs children safe outlets for participating in sports.

Henderson’s Branson Reavis, 12, isn’t able to walk or speak, but he knows it’s time to play ball when his navy blue Red Sox T-shirt is on.

Branson’s musical cue for an at-bat, is the Black Eyed Peas’ hit “Boom Boom Pow,” blaring over the loud speaker.

“He loves it,” said Branson’s mother, Dee Reavis. “He just gets really happy. When the music starts up, he knows that’s his music. You can just see the joy in his eyes. He loves the hitting part. When Uncle Michael runs, that’s his favorite part.”

Each Miracle League player gets a “buddy” to help them field, swing the bat and run the bases. Branson gets a little assistance from his aunt and uncle, Michael and Chris Strum, of Henderson. Chris helps Branson swing while Michael pushes his wheelchair around the bases.

“It’s great to come out here on the weekend and just have fun and see them all smile,” said Michael Strum. “I love it. I really do.”

“It’s amazing to watch them,” added Chris. “They get out there and they’re like, ‘Let’s play, let’s play.’ They think they’re like big boys. We’re in the major leagues here.”

Branson’s disability developed when he was 6-months-old. His folic acid deficiency causes seizures and global developmental delay, which affects functioning of the central nervous system.

Branson has participated in the Miracle League of Franklin County since play began two years ago.

The Miracle League of Franklin County currently plays each Saturday in the spring and fall at Louisburg High, beginning at 10 a.m. Branson plays in the ages 9-and-up game, which is followed by the ages 5-to-8 contest.

Each game is two innings. After at-bats, multiple balls are thrown around the infield so each player gets a chance to field.

“I love being out here,” said Dee Reavis. “Just to see the joy on the kids’ faces. It’s something parents with children with special needs never thought their kid would be able to do, play baseball. This gives them the opportunity to do it.”

The first Miracle League game was played in Conyers, Ga. in 2000. Donna Wade founded the Franklin County chapter, now one of seven in the state.

Wade estimates there are about 1,000 special-needs children in Vance, Granville, Warren, and Franklin counties.

In four seasons, she’s seen the Franklin County league grow from 16 to more than 50 players.

Most of the players are from Franklin County, as are the volunteers, who are mostly Franklin County high school students.

“They are awesome,” said Wade. “They never miss a game. These are dedicated kids. That’s what is wonderful, to see their connection with the kids.”

Tony Alaffita is a senior at Bunn High School and a first baseman on the Wildcats’ baseball team.

Alaffita visits the Miracle League field every weekend for both games, tossing pitches and throwing grounders. He says he can’t think of a better combination than working with kids and baseball.

“It’s heartwarming to me,” said Alaffita. “Once I see them smile, it makes me want to smile. I try to do as much as I can for them.”

Wade was inspired to start the league when her triplets became old enough to play T-ball. Two of the three, Laci and Jamie, 8, are special-needs children.

Soon, Laci and Branson will have a new field to play on, one tailored to people with special needs.

A permanent home for the Miracle League of Franklin County is being constructed on the grounds of Long Mill Elementary School in Youngsville. The finished product will include a rubberized playing surface, a handicap-accessible playground and a walking trail. 

The first of the three-phase, $1.1-million-project is scheduled to be completed in the summer.

Until then, Miracle League players, friends, families, and volunteers will continue to trade smiles at Louisburg High.

“I think it’s very important for self-esteem, hand-eye coordination,” said Dee Reavis. “The interaction with other children that have disabilities like them — they’re not looked upon in a negative way out here. Everybody is equal out here.”

And everybody wins.

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