Funding for the Miracle League of New Albany facility has reached about the halfway mark, according to Dr. Kevin Klingele, chief of orthopedics at Nationwide Children's Hospital, who is leading the project.
Miracle Leagues are nonprofit organizations that hold baseball games on special fields to accommodate children with special needs. Children are teamed up with teens and young people who serve as "buddies" during the games.
The goal of a Miracle League, Klingele said, is to provide opportunities for children with physical or mental disabilities to do something they otherwise typically wouldn't be able to do -- in this case, play baseball.
Thus far, about $450,000 has been raised, primarily from individual donors, Klingele said. The first phase of the project will require $750,000 to $1 million, he said. The project will include a field and accompanying facilities, he said.
Klingele has been aided in his project-planning efforts by two New Albany High School seniors, Nickolas Shroyer, 18, and Ethan Swincicki, 17, who have helped with fundraising efforts for their senior-seminar project. Senior seminar is a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students research an idea and create a product or complete a project; they must document 80 hours of work.
Klingele said both students have helped bring awareness to the project through social media and fundraising efforts.
"They've been great all around," he said.
Although both students are on the high school's baseball team, their reasons for getting involved with fundraising for the league go beyond a healthy interest in sports.
Shroyer's brother Alex, now a 15-year-old New Albany sophomore, was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum at birth. Although Alex played baseball on a Little League team, he has aged out of the program and wants to join a league that's synonymous with his skill level, Shroyer said.
Swincicki, meanwhile, became an advocate for those with mental disabilities when he was a New Albany Middle School student.
He said he first made friends with students with mental disabilities when he was rehearsing for a play in sixth grade because students in an after-school program often attended rehearsals. After becoming friends with them, he was motivated to join his school's club, Spread the Word to End the Word, part of a larger, national campaign to advocate against using a derogatory term to describe those with mental disabilities.
Because the high school didn't have that club, Swincicki said, involvement in fundraising for the Miracle League would serve a similar purpose. He also knew he wanted to do something involving baseball for his senior project, he said.
Swincicki said he and Shroyer prepared an informational packet with multiple sponsorship levels to seek donations from local businesses. They also asked if companies would be interested in providing food or beverages for players after games.
Now, the two are interested in organizing fundraisers, such as a basketball or dodgeball tournament, to involve other students.
Klingele said Swincicki and Shroyer were instrumental in spreading the word about a grant opportunity via social media that led to the project earning a $20,000 grant from Aetna, which has a facility in New Albany.
"It's clear they have a passion about it," Klingele said.
Although funding still is being secured, the Miracle League site has been set for a while.
New Albany City Council on Nov. 8, 2017, approved a resolution authorizing City Manager Joe Stefanov to enter into a lease with the New Albany-Plain Local Joint Park District for 5 acres on the north side of Swickard Woods Boulevard.
The lease cost the parks district a one-time $10 fee, according to city spokesman Scott McAfee.
Under the terms of the lease agreement, the city would be able to approve the development's design. If the field were not developed, the land would revert to city property. The 10-year lease also could be extended with city approval.
New Albany is leasing the land to the park district, which in turn is subleasing the land to the Miracle League with the approval of the city, said park district director Dave Wharton. When constructed, the facility would be owned by the league and managed by both the league and the park district, Wharton said.
Klingele said he wants to begin building portions of the first phase of the project in the spring. The goal is to open the field by fall, he said.
The second phase of the project would be another $250,000 to $500,000 and would include a playground and fitness area next to the field, Klingele said.
When completed, the facility would include a baseball field, a handicap-accessible playground, a parking lot and possibly a building that could complement other public uses on Swickard Woods Boulevard, he said.
Klingele said he hopes eventually to build a fitness facility for individuals with special needs, to bring regional and national adaptive sports medicine and events to the city.