Calvin Patton heads to home plate with his dad during May 15 action at Bilkie Family Field as part of the Miracle League. The league is designed to allow special needs kids the opportunity to play sports.

Calvin Patton heads to home plate with his dad during May 15 action at Bilkie Family Field as part of the Miracle League. The league is designed to allow special needs kids the opportunity to play sports.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Miracle League gives opportunities for special needs kids

By: Zachary Manning | Farmington Press | Published May 26, 2021

 Carlos Teran calls his shot before taking an at-bat May 15 at Bilkie Family Field. The fall season is expected to start Aug. 14 and run until Oct. 2.

Carlos Teran calls his shot before taking an at-bat May 15 at Bilkie Family Field. The fall season is expected to start Aug. 14 and run until Oct. 2.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Billy Wallace hits the ball during a game with the Miracle League. The league is getting ready to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

Billy Wallace hits the ball during a game with the Miracle League. The league is getting ready to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FARMINGTON HILLS — As a parent, the goal is to do whatever it takes to make your kids happy, and Farmington Hills resident Stacey Diefenbach is no stranger to that struggle.

Looking to help her two sons with autism, Diefenbach was at a crossroads until she found the Miracle League of Plymouth, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing sports leagues for those with special needs.

Once being introduced to the league, she wanted to help in any way possible, eventually becoming the league’s operations manager. Since getting involved with the league, she has been enamored with the sense of community and how great an experience it has been for her family.

“It’s always overwhelming. The idea that my son James can actually participate in an activity or a sport that is sensitive and more accommodating to him, it’s just so overwhelming. It just makes me so thrilled,” Diefenbach said. “Realizing that he’s actually able to do this and participate, it gives me goosebumps.”

Though the league has continued to grow over the years, it was once just an idea that took a lot of planning. Bob Bilkie serves as the treasurer for the league and played an instrumental role in getting the league off the ground.

Bilkie was at a Plymouth Rotary meeting when Deb Madonna approached him about a playground for special needs children, headlined by a baseball field designed for them. He was instantly hooked on the idea. Madonna serves as the president and commissioner of the league.

They spent time scouring the area looking for a place to build the playground, but kept hitting dead ends. Eventually, they found a place that would house only the baseball field, which was behind Central Middle School in Plymouth.

The entire process began in 2008, with the league asking for donations and building up the funds for the league. When time came to build the field, they were $150,000 short of what they felt was necessary to make it happen.

Bilkie and his wife, Shari Bilkie, who serves as the secretary for the league, wrote a check to allow the process to move forward. The field would eventually be named Bilkie Family Field.

As the field was being constructed, they knew it would have to be different from a regular baseball field. With many kids using walkers or wheelchairs, the league used artificial turf to ensure some more safety for the participants.

From there, it was all about organizing the league, making the teams, getting kids to sign up and all the other little nuanced things to make that first set of games happen.

With everything in place, the league was able to kick off in 2011 and is now approaching its 10-year anniversary in August.

“I remember at the time thinking, ‘All right, there’s going to come a day when nine kids will be in the field and there will be kids in batter’s boxes and kids in on-deck circles and kids in dugouts,’” Bob Bilkie said. “The vision of what that would look like to Deb and I is really what made us pick up and go after it again and again and again after being shut down on so many occasions.”

With the league, volunteers play a pivotal role. Bob Bilkie noted that many come and serve for credits or to get hours for various things. However, once they are exposed to the league, many stick around for years to come.

From umpire to greeter to equipment coordinator, volunteers can help in a variety of roles. There is also what the league calls the buddy program, which has been put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically, though, a buddy is someone who aids players on the field and helps them gain valuable social interaction. Right now, parents or members from the same household serve as buddies for the games.

Hannah Munzenberger is currently a coach for the Comets in the league, but she started as a buddy with one of her neighbors who played. Like many, she wasn’t sure what to expect from the league, but once she experienced it, she was hooked and wanted to be a part of it.

Munzenberger has now been a coach since 2017, after originally starting as a buddy in 2013.

As she continues to work with the kids, it’s hard for her to miss the smiles and excitement the kids have when they take the field or when they get a hit. For them, it’s an opportunity they wouldn’t have without this type of league in place.

“I love being at the field every Saturday. It’s my favorite part of the summer, and I just love that these kids are getting to do something that’s taken for granted by a lot of other people. They get to go out and play sports and be a normal kid and do something that is so much fun for them,” Munzenberger said.

The spring league is currently underway, but registration for fall is ongoing. Registration runs from May 1 to June 25. The fall season is expected to start Aug. 14 and run until Oct. 2.

Currently, the field is really only used on Saturdays for baseball games. However, the league is looking into ways of utilizing the field more often and potentially providing more sports in the future.

For more information on how to get involved or to sign up for a spot in the league, visit miracleleagueofplymouth.com.

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