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November 22, 2014

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Children with cognitive, developmental challenges get chance to play ball

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William D'Urso

A Miracle League player prepares to hit an incoming pitch.

The pitcher leaned down with her forearm on her leg as she stared across home plate. The count was one strike and no balls, and the batter awaited the delivery in his mismatched sweatshirt and pants.

The ball came gliding in through a stiff breeze, a big meatball of a throw, and as the hitter licked his chops, he smashed a line drive up the center of the diamond for a single.

But the players on the field weren’t there to earn a victory or bragging rights. Many of them didn’t know how many runs had been scored; even the inning wasn't important.

It was all made possible Saturday by the Miracle League of Las Vegas, an organization that caters to kids with cognitive and developmental challenges. They don’t worry about strikeouts, runs or how far someone can clobber a fastball. In this league, everyone gets a hit, and at the end of the game, the score is always tied.

There are 250 Miracle Leagues across the country serving more than 200,000 kids, according to the organization’s website.

“It kind of tugged at my heart strings, and I’m like, ‘I gotta be a part of this,’” said Wally Little, a parent of one of the players. “The first time I was out here, I was fighting back tears. Now I can’t not be a part of it.”

Little, whose 16-year-old son, Chad Little, plays every Saturday, said it’s an important experience for his son. It gives him a chance to play baseball — a chance he might not have otherwise.

The three-year-old nonprofit organization has a field equipped with a rubber surface and a wheelchair-accessible playground next door. The league's eight-week season begins each March.

It’s a place where the whole family can hang out. Complete with bleachers and a concession stand.

Those who gathered to support their kids cheered for every hit as the announcer would boom things like “good swing,” or “what a hit!”

Shanna Sabet, a mother of one of the players and a public relations professional who volunteers with the organization, said the games don’t just help the kids.

“I think it’s really beneficial for the whole family because it gives them an opportunity to experience something normal,” Sabet said.

Mercier Boykins has brought his 6-year-old son, Antone Boykins, to the games for about two years. He said his son, who has cerebral palsy, has no cognitive limitations but can’t run like some other children.

“Seeing him out on the field is something we thought we never would see,” he said. “The Miracle League is really important for him to look forward to.”

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