In a popular park in Green Bay, Wis., teams of children routinely experience the excitement of hitting a baseball, circling the bases, and crossing home plate in front of a cheering crowd. It may sound unremarkable—just a routine part of life in America—but there is nothing ordinary about this effort.
The Miracle League of Green Bay was founded in 2006 to enable kids with physical disabilities to experience the thrill of playing baseball despite the challenges they face. The organization is a volunteer-driven endeavor that over the past 10 years has transformed the lives of hundreds of children and their families.
“It’s a great opportunity for my daughter to disconnect from me and trust others,” says Deanna Weyenberg, the mother of a 13-year-old girl born with cerebral palsy who plays on a Miracle League team. “It’s such a joy to see that. Yes, she’s physically challenged, but she is having so much fun.”
The establishment and continuing success of the Miracle League of Green Bay is attributable largely to Steve Seidl, who led an intensive behind-the-scenes effort to raise the more than $750,000 needed to build and care for the specially equipped field and related facilities that the league relies on.
When Seidl’s friend, Paul Liegeois, asked a decade ago if he thought the Green Bay community, with its population of 105,000, could come up with the funds to establish a baseball league for kids with disabilities, Seidl didn’t hesitate to jump on board. Liegeois had discovered Miracle League, which has baseball teams in nearly 300 communities in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Australia, during a trip to Atlanta, where the nonprofit originated, and wanted to launch one where he lived. “Playing baseball is something a child with a walker or in a wheelchair can’t experience [someplace else], but here they can. Until you see it, you can’t imagine it,” says Liegeois, who now serves as MLGB executive director.
That was all Seidl—the father of an adult son with Down syndrome—needed to hear. “We didn’t know if we could do it, but we knew we could try to do it,” says Seidl, who has served as president for 10 years. “So I put together a quick little advisory committee, and things went well.”
So well, in fact, that the fledgling organization exceeded their expectations. The Miracle League of Green Bay held its first games on an existing playground in 2006, and under Seidl’s leadership raised more than $250,000 within a year to build a rubberized field to ensure the players’ safety; a support building with rest rooms and a concession stand; and a specially designed playground for children with physical disabilities. The field was dedicated in 2007.
Volunteers work one-on-one with each child in the league, helping them swing at the ball and travel around the bases—even if they are unable to walk. Every child wears a major league–style uniform, and has the chance to bat, get a hit, and score a run. There are no outs, all games end in a tie, and an announcer provides play-by-play coverage of the action over a state-of-the-art sound system.
“This is a huge opportunity for these kids to do something they otherwise would not get to do. A lot of these kids never get to move fast, and when you’re coaching first base and see the smiles on their faces, it’s unbelievable,” says Rick Allcox, whose 17-year-old daughter has Down syndrome and plays in the league.
Drawing on Deep Roots
Seidl’s deep connections in the Green Bay business community, where he has been a commercial real estate professional since the mid-1990s and a REALTOR® for 44 years, were key to his ability to spearhead the fundraising effort that got the Miracle League of Green Bay off the ground and supports its operations. Founding supporters of the league included a prominent local businessman, Dick Resch, and retired Green Bay Packers star Brett Favre, who each donated $100,000.
Now that the field surface is aging and will need to be replaced—which Siedl estimates will cost more than $100,000—the relationships he has built with potential donors and other community leaders will help them come up with the funds needed to continue to thrive, Liegeois says. “I think we have the best possible lineup of contacts for getting money that it is possible to have. Steve started it.”
Seidl says he was drawn to the challenge of launching the Miracle League of Green Bay in part because he could use the same mindset that drives his desire to run his own business to meet his goal. “In real estate, if you don’t perform your tasks, you don’t do any business,” he says.
A lifelong resident of the Green Bay area, Seidl looks forward to the days when he can spend more time on other volunteer activities, which include involvement in the Allouez Optimist Club of Green Bay, Junior Achievement, and the Boy Scouts of America in addition to the Miracle League. “Very few people are disappointed when you do something for them,” he says.
Seidl is inspired by the satisfaction he derives from bringing joy to peoples’ lives—and helping them experience things they never thought possible. “The payback has been phenomenal. It’s very hard to go to a game and not understand the emotional part,” he says.
You can reach Stephen Seidl at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the Miracle League of Green Bay at greenbaymiracleleague.com.