Children with cognitive and physical disabilities will soon have the chance to play baseball on a field made just for them in Cottage Grove.
Village officials recently agreed to allow the Miracle League of Dane County to build and maintain a field at Bakken Park. Bill Schultz, the league’s local executive director, hopes to have the diamond ready for play in the spring of 2021.
“One of the first loves I had growing up was baseball,” he said. “I just loved baseball.”
Schultz was born with multiple physical disabilities, resulting in a leg being amputated and a partial left arm. Although his performance during tryouts for Little League were as good as other children, he was denied the chance to play for fear he would hurt himself or others.
More than 60 years later, he saw a segment on a television news program about the Miracle League, and the next day he called the national organization to become the organizer of a league in Dane County.
Schultz said the field will be custom-designed with a cushioned surface to help prevent injuries.
“The field has a rubberized, synthetic surface that enables disabled children with wheelchairs, walkers or an inability to walk easily to experience the game of baseball – hitting a ball, fielding and throwing, running the bases, and scoring a run,” Schultz said.
About 70 percent of participating children have cognitive disabilities. The remaining 30 percent have physical issues.
“Buddies” assist each Miracle League player. These buddies, often high school and college students, are mainstream children who play baseball, or are members of youth church groups, Boys and Girls Scouts, and other groups.
In the games, every player bats once each inning, all players are safe on the bases, every player scores a run before the inning is over, and each team and each player wins every game.
Schultz said the choice of location was between Cottage Grove and DeForest, and Cottage Grove had a better initial park setup. Sean Brusegar, the parks and rec director in the village, was also a big supporter.
“It was just the excitement I could see from Sean, how positive he felt,” Schultz said. “It also fit very well in the center of the park, with restrooms, a shelter and playground right there.
“Sean has been just a strong advocate through the entire process.”
The parks and rec committee unanimously endorsed the plan.
“The facility will be primarily programmed by the Miracle League but, the Parks and Recreation Department will have opportunities to program the facility as well,” Brusegar wrote in a memo to the village board.
Officials from the two entities are working on an official lease for the 1.01 acres of property.
“The village of Cottage Grove is excited for the Miracle League of Dane County to call Cottage Grove and Phoebe Bakken Park it’s home,” Brusegar said. “With the planned shelter with restrooms and splash pad scheduled for 2020, the Miracle League will bring even more excitement to Phoebe Bakken Park.”
Schultz is now raising funds toward his goal of $580,000.
He said $420,000 is needed to build the field, fencing, lighting and bleachers. Another $160,000 will cover the operating expenses for the first two years.
So far, he has raised about $65,000. Plans are to continue to seek out private donations, business sponsorships and foundation grants.
Schultz hopes to begin construction in 2020 and have the field ready for play in spring 2021.
Each participating child pays $45 to play. This fee includes a uniform shirt and cap.
Major League Baseball is a supporter of the Miracle League and allows for the use of replica uniforms and logos.
Schultz said he has been told to expect between 60 and 80 children the first year, but that number could easily grow to 200 by the third year.
There are 250 Miracle League organizations across the country, as well as in Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia. The Miracle serves more than 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities.
“It’s more than a youth sports league,” Schultz said. “It is an opportunity for these children to experience joy, build self-confidence, develop social skills, make friends, and feel included and accepted. It allows the parents of these children to watch their kids have fun and feel included.”
For more information or to donate, visit www.danecountymiracleleague.com.