The Miracle League’s westward expansion has finally come to Montana and Dan Johns couldn’t be happier about it.
Johns, the president of Kidsports in Kalispell, said the recent opening of Miracle Field gives the state its first athletic complex designed specifically for children and adults with special needs. The model for the field comes from a Georgia-based organization called Miracle League. Though Miracle League serves more than 80,000 children and has 100 completed fields with 100 more under construction nationwide, Johns said the nearest field he knows of is in Minneapolis.
“It’s moving West, but we’re the first in Montana,” Johns said.
Covered with 10 millimeters of soft rubber and carefully constructed to be perfectly flat, Kalispell’s Miracle Field is accessible for people in wheelchairs and walkers. It’s geared toward children, but Johns said the field is open to people of all ages who have special needs. It’s located at the Kidsports Complex on the north side of Kalispell. Local athletic leagues like Pee Wee Baseball use the complex for practice and games.
Before the establishment of the Kidsports Complex in 1996, Johns said there had been efforts to create a facility for children with special needs. Attempts to fashion such a field at local parks failed because of unsuitable conditions, such as uneven playing surfaces that made it difficult for children with walkers and wheelchairs.
Once the Kidsports Complex was completed in 1996, Johns said it became the ideal home for a special needs athletic complex. So over the next several years, Johns and others in the community researched similar facilities elsewhere to find a good fit for Kalispell.
Johns heard about Miracle League and contacted officials there. After he compiled information on how to build a Miracle League field, workers broke ground in 2007. The field was then christened in late June of this year with an exhibition baseball game. Kidsports has been designated the Miracle League of Northwest Montana.
Of the $350,000 needed to build the field, roughly $260,000 came from the Rotary Club of Kalispell and the rest came from private donations. The field, which is slightly smaller than nearby baseball diamonds, has lines painted for baseball and soccer, but Johns envisions a number of different sports. There have been discussions about bringing in basketball hoops and holding tennis events and wheelchair races, among other ideas.
“Whatever we can dream up,” Johns said. “It’s a matter of what our imagination will allow us to do.”
The city of Kalispell’s parks and recreation department will maintain the park, said the department’s director Mike Baker. The parks and recreation department is in charge of maintaining all fields at the Kidsports Complex as part of a public-private partnership with Kidsports.
Since the field’s inaugural event in late June, Johns said he has been amazed by the reaction from the community.
“Awesome – a great deal of enthusiasm,” Johns said.