Bryce Desrochers can’t wait for spring. He’s a typical Ottawa kid who loves to play baseball and hang out with friends. There’s just one small difference from his peers. When ball season finally rolls around, this local boy has to do more than show up with a ball cap and a glove. Bryce has cerebral palsy and operates his wheelchair with his chin, so when it’s his turn at bat, someone swings for him and Bryce heads for the bases.
No biggie. Bryce is thrilled to play. He’s a member of the Challenger Little League, an organization open to children with physical or cognitive disabilities who want to have fun in a team environment. Game adaptations are made based on different children’s needs.
When you spend time with Bryce, it is obvious he’s crazy about baseball. “I love running the bases really fast in my chair,” says the youngster. (While he’s talking, he has one eye on a Toronto Blue Jays game on TV.) “I also get to hang out with my friends, which is fun.”
There’s an obstacle, though. Both literally and metaphorically, the playing field is anything but level for this baseball-loving tween. “The ball fields were not designed with accessibility in mind,” explains Bryce’s mom, Michelle Desrochers. “It is difficult for Bryce to guide his chair on a dirt-playing surface and the raised bases pose an obstacle. Also, there can be issues about inaccessible bathrooms and park entrances.”
There is an answer to the problem. By chance, Michelle stumbled upon an innovation that permits kids with disabilities to get in the game with ease. “I was watching the television program Extreme Makeover and they mentioned a miracle league field. It is a specially rubberized field that is fully accessible, allowing kids with special needs to comfortably play baseball and other sports. I googled miracle league and found there was only one field in all of Canada. My husband and I could not believe there was not a field in the nation’s capital. One positive is that while doing research we did find out about the Challenger Little League of Ottawa, which Bryce has loved.”
Since this discovery, Michelle has become a passionate advocate for establishing a miracle league field in Ottawa. “We have been working at this for the past six years,” she mentions. At first, she and her husband were new to the community and busy with other things as well. Although there was lots of support, she says, “The project did not seem to advance.”
Then the Desrochers family met David Gourlay. Well-known in Ottawa baseball circles, David is president of the Ottawa Champions, a professional minor-league baseball team that will take to the field in 2015. “I met the Desrochers at a Challenger Little League baseball game in 2012,” David says. “They presented their concept of having a miracle field in Ottawa and asked if I would help support the cause. I was taken with the idea and agreed to do what I could to help out.”
Since then he has helped to form the Miracle League of Ottawa, a non-profit organization with a board of directors and active volunteers. And fundraising action has taken off. The City of Ottawa has agreed to donate $500,000 dollars as well as land at the Notre-Dame des Champs Park in Orleans. The Jays Care Foundation, the charitable branch of the Toronto Blue Jays, has pledged $210,000 and BFI/Friends of The Mer Bleue Inc Community Fund is good for another $100,000. A host of other organizations and individuals, from the Rotary Club of Ottawa to Champions for Ottawa Baseball, are also pitching in money to help with the community initiative. The Miracle League of Ottawa was even a finalist in the TSN Kraft Celebration tour. Although the league didn’t collect the $100,000 dollar final prize, it did win $25,000 plus plenty of publicity for the project.
David Gourlay and the Desrochers have been overwhelmed by the response. And Michelle is quick to give David the credit for it. He really got the ball rolling, she says, adding,“Since he came on board, the community support has been amazing.”
Things have been going so well, there are plans to have shovels in the ground in the spring of 2015 with a tentative goal to open the field July 1, 2015. There are also plans to build a playground that will be totally accessible.
Michelle Desrochers considers it a dream come true. “When you have a child with special needs, you always have to plan ahead. The miracle field will let Bryce play baseball without any barriers. It will be huge for thousands of other kids who have any type of disability.”
Bryce? He already has plans at the new field. “I will be the first up to bat and go super-fast,” says the excited player, who’s anxiously waiting for the snow to melt. “I know that I will get a lot of hits. It will be awesome.”