WHEELING - The Easter Seals miracles just keep happening.
On Saturday, football players and coaches from Wheeling Park, Weir and Central Catholic high schools, along with WPHS cheerleaders teamed up with some special needs youngsters for the inaugural Miracle League football game held inside the McDonough Center at Wheeling Jesuit University. And everyone went home a winner.
The team includes15 boys while 15 girls signed up to become cheerleaders for the Miracle League team. The collaboration between high schoolers and their new little "buddies" was an instant success, according to Lorie Unch, president and CEO of Easter Seals.
Photos by Heather Ziegler
Roger Weaver, volunteer game official, and granddaughter Kelsi, 12, cheerleader, prepare for Saturday’s Miracle League football game.
Unch and local Miracle League baseball team founder Lorraine McCardle are broadening the opportunities for children with special needs throughout the Ohio Valley via expanded sporting programs. And according to McCardle, the sky's the limit.
"The baseball league is a success already but not everyone plays baseball. We decided to try football and we plan to add basketball, tennis, soccer, hockey and golf. We need to offer these kids many more opportunities," McCardle said.
McCardle applauded WJU for opening its facilities to the children for their special football outing on Saturday, and Shirts 'N More for providing the team's football jerseys. WJU baseball coach Terry Edwards also pitched in Saturday.
McCardle said, weather permitting, the Miracle League Baseball Field at the I-470 ballfield complex will be used for more than just baseball as they develop new programs for any child seeking added sports activities.
Unch believes the football program proved to be a learning experience for the high school athletes as well as their younger buddies. Brawny football players displayed a gentler side as they instructed their buddies on the finer aspects of passing, catching and running. And it didn't take long for the Park cheerleaders to bring out the best in the Miracle team cheerleaders with great enthusiasm.
Central Coach Mike Young, Weir Coach Tony Filberto and WPHS Coach Chris Daugherty agreed the interaction between their football players and the Miracle League children proved to be a great learning experience for the teens.
"I told my guys that sometimes when they have struggles they should think of these kids," Filberto offered. "I know they are getting back more than they are giving today."
Young agreed that the collaboration "is a great way to give back to their community" while making a difference in the lives of others.
The teens are serving as mentors for the younger children and Daugherty said it the program has had an impact on his players.
"After the first practice, I got several text messages from my players thanking me for allowing them to be a part of the program. They truly understand what it's all about and I'm proud of them. They know they are blessed to be able to play their game."
Roger Weaver volunteered his time to officiate the game on Saturday while keeping an eye on his granddaughter, Kelsi, 12, who didn't let her wheelchair keep her from serving as a cheerleader for the Miracle League team.
Kelsi summed up the experience saying, "It's really fun and everybody has been so nice."
Any parent interested in having their child involved in the Miracle League activities can call the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center in Wheeling at 304-242-1390.