Grand Strand Miracle Leagues, started in 2001 as the second Miracle League in the United States, offers unique sports experiences in baseball, soccer and golf to special-needs children and adults at no cost to the individuals and their families. There are no age or ability limits, and these rules apply: “Everyone Plays. Everyone Cares. Everyone Wins!”
The eight-week fall baseball season begins Sept. 10 with approximately 125 players signed up, executive director Jennifer Averette says. The players range in age from 4 or 5 through their 30s and 40s. Team coaches assign volunteers or buddies to every player. Buddies may accompany the special needs players around the bases. “We always look for volunteers. [The experience] will make their hearts happy.”
Averette follows Tory Mackey, who was executive director for several years. Program director Isabel Shen started with GS Miracle Leagues when she was an intern from Coastal Carolina University.
The Mariners, an advanced baseball team, play on a regular diamond against teams from city and county parks and recreation programs, church and other groups.
“Baseball is our No. 1 staple,” Averette says. Grand Strand Miracle Leagues is plural because in addition to spring and fall baseball, the nonprofit has spring and fall soccer and “this year we added golf. We thought it was a natural fit.”
She says the summer heat suggests future golf sessions will be in cooler months. GS Miracle Leagues worked with First Tee of the Grand Strand and received a grant for equipment from the Borman Foundation in Maine.
The fall soccer schedule begins Sept. 1 and concludes Oct. 27 with a season finale. The women’s soccer team of Coastal Carolina University holds soccer skills practices with demonstrations of kicking and blocking.
Games and practices are on a special rubberized surface at James C. Benton Miracle League Field in the Myrtle Beach sports complex at 33rd Avenue North and Oak Street. The playing surface is designed for wheelchairs and walkers. The Miracle Leagues facility includes an ADA-approved playground, concession stand and handicapped accessible restrooms. GS Miracle Leagues has a lifetime rights agreement with Horry County Schools.
Myrtle Beach businessman Paul Booth watched a television report on the first Miracle League in Conyers, Ga., and felt the Grand Strand needed a team sports facility for special-needs persons. The Benton family became major supporters.
Carson Benton, a son of James C., is chairman of the GS Miracle Leagues board, which includes parents, Guy Schuman, senior director of business development for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and former MLB player Reggie Sanders.
Averette is excited about G.S. Miracle Leagues becoming a community partner of the United Way of Horry County, with a $5,000 allocation for the campaign that starts in September. Game day sponsors provide food for everyone – players, families, coaches, volunteers – after every game.
“We’ve got great sponsors,” Averette says. “Most return year after year.”
Game day sponsors include Springmaid Beach Resort, McLeod Seacoast Pediatric Rehabilitation, Walmart-Conway, Sam’s Club, South Atlantic Bank, Horry County Parks & Recreation and Chick-Fil-A.
Field sponsors pay $500 a year or provide in-kind services. A signature fundraiser is “Songwriters in the Round,” featuring four up-and-coming Nashville songwriters. An annual golf tournament is on Aug. 8. G.S. Miracle leagues also receives grants from the city of Myrtle Beach and Horry County. The total operating budget is $170,000.
On Saturday, Averette will mark her first year as executive director. Previously, she was executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020. A Pennsylvania native, she moved south for college at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, then to the Grand Strand.
[HED] How to help
To volunteer as a buddy for special-needs players, or to make a financial contribution, visit the website of Grand Strand Miracle Leagues at www.GSMiracleLeagues.com
▪ Phone | 843-448-7712
▪ email | Executive director Jennifer Averette | firstname.lastname@example.org
Program director Isabel Shen | email@example.com
▪ Mail | P.O. Box 7503
Myrtle Beach, SC 29572