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LASN magazine, September – A Grandslam for Inclusive Play

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Playground with a Special Focus

by Michael Miyamoto

If baseball is America’s favorite pastime, it reigns supreme in Upper St. Clair, Pa., a small township near Pittsburgh. Casey’s Clubhouse and the Miracle League baseball field in western Pennsylvania are two of the reasons why.

The Miracle League ball field makes it possible for children with special needs to play the game and have loads of fun doing it. And Casey’s Clubhouse is a playground themed around the sport. Both projects, though separate, are also a standout example of what can be accomplished when several entities work together toward one common goal.

While Casey’s Clubhouse is fully accessible to anyone, its many features are specifically for children and young adults with special needs. And then there is the Miracle League baseball field, a place where people with special needs can actually play the game, with no physical obstacles to limit or impede them. The only collective prerequisite is, of course, a passion for the game of baseball, regardless of whether they are able-bodied or not.

One of the major contributors was Sean Casey, the namesake for Casey’s Clubhouse. Casey is a former professional baseball player, and he and his wife, Mandi, manage Casey Family Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Pirates Charities, the philanthropic group of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, also donated a great deal of financial support to Casey’s Clubhouse. The Pirates are one of the teams Casey played for before he retired from the game.

Still another is the Miracle League of South Hills, just one of many such leagues throughout the nation these days. Miracle League began in 1997 in Conyers, Ga., and its goal is to see children with special needs play baseball.

“The end goal is that we build a community of people who recognize their peers’ strengths and abilities, rather than seeing differences or disabilities,” Maura Rodgers, South Hills Miracle League board member, said.

The Miracle League field in Upper St. Clair is similar to Miracle League facilities in other parts of the nation. It has a cushioned rubber surface to prevent injuries. It has easily accessible dugouts and flat surfaces, and no raised bases or pitching mounds. In other words, there are no barriers standing in the way of the wheelchair-bound, disabled or impaired.

Pirates Charities first became involved with the Miracle League program in 2009. A partnership with the Miracle League of Southwestern Pennsylvania, located in Cranberry Township, led to the creation of the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field at Dick’s Sportsplex at Graham Park.

Pirates Charities now works with eight Miracle League programs, most of them in Pennsylvania. All of them give young people with special needs opportunities to play baseball. One of those is with the

Miracle League of South Hills, the joint effort that led to Casey’s Clubhouse and the Miracle League field at Upper St. Clair.

“We believe every child deserves the chance to play baseball and every dollar we raise goes to making that happen,” the Miracle League of South Hills says on its website. “We’ve built a field, a playground and entire community here at the Miracle League of the South Hills with the support of our donors.”

Casey is no stranger to philanthropy either. He played for four Major League Baseball teams, and has partnered with Miracle League to support its programs everywhere he went. He is a three-time All- Star who is now a television analyst. Casey, a native of Pittsburgh, attended the opening day festivities for the inaugural season of the Miracle League of South Hills in May 2012. Bob Nutting, chairman of Pirates.

Charities, was there too. So were representatives from Casey’s Clubhouse’s “Starting Lineup,” comprised of donors who also helped fund the projects.

With Upper St. Clair and the Miracle League of South Hills, the idea was to have both a baseball field and a playground. The field was built first, then the playground. Casey’s Clubhouse sits just outside the Miracle League’s outfield fence. Among other donors, Casey Family Foundation partnered with Pirates Charities in 2010 and more than $1 million was raised for both the playground and baseball field.

“At the Pirates Charities Miracle League of the South Hills, we believe every child deserves a chance to play baseball and we are dedicated to giving children with special needs the opportunity to hit, throw and take the field just like their peers,” the Miracle League of South Hills said on its website.

The baseball field was unveiled in 2012, and the inaugural South Hills Miracle League baseball season began immediately afterward. Casey’s Clubhouse opened in the spring of 2015.

Playground designer and manufacturer Cre8Play was hired to come up with a design that went beyond merely meeting ADA requirements, creating instead an environment that was entirely “all inclusive.” Instead of a “sea of ramps,” the goal was to have a playground that is just as much fun for children with disabilities as it is for children who are not disabled.

Casey’s Clubhouse contains special slides that minimize impacts to anyone with cochlear implants, and there are many other features scattered throughout the park to assist the visually and physically impaired. Many of the climbers are “transfer accessible.” This makes it possible for all kids to go as high as they…

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View all photos of The Clubhouse.