Freddie Triplett has seen the joy in the children and adults who are less advanced mentally, physically or emotionally when they play baseball in a protected environment. So he is making plans to start a Miracle League program at the Tatum Park with a new ballfield.
Triplett said he has been talking with local government officials about getting on board with the league.
“We have formed a board and we are in the introductory phase of the league,” he said. “We just had our second board meeting. We sent our proposal to the Hattiesburg City Council and we got good feedback. The Forrest County Board of Supervisors has promised in-kind help on the facility.”
Each supervisor pledging $1,000 from their district’s recreation budgets during a Sept. 18 meeting with members of a Leadership Pinebelt group, who decided to join forces to support the project after hearing a presentation by Triplett and Ann Jones.
The group is doing its part to help raise money needed for the project, which will be located at the Larry Doleac Youth Baseball Complex.
“We are planning to present the league to other governmental bodies,” said Triplett. “We want to be the catalyst that starts this league.”
The league involves girls and boys. They are grouped according to their abilities, and ages are thrown out.
“McComb has had a league for three years,” Triplett said. “I am not sure how long it took for them to raise the money for the field and everything. They have six teams in their league.”
Triplett expects better for the Hattiesburg area.
“If we didn’t open with 10 teams, I would be disappointed,” he said. “We have 6,500 children who would be eligible to play in the league from Perry, Forrest and Lamar counties. The number would grow to almost 16,000 within a short drive outside these counties.”
One person who is supporting the Miracle League efforts is Lamar County School Board member Deborah Pierce, who has been taking her 16-year-old son Dylan to McComb to play.
“He has Down’s syndrome,” she said. “We actually took him to McComb last year to play in that league. When I heard this was coming up, I jumped on it. This was something we couldn’t pass up.”
Pierce said sports is important in some families.
“Our whole family grew up in sports,” she said. “My oldest son played baseball and my next son was in the band. We tried Dylan at Optimist Park and played tee-ball the first year. He was included with the other kids without disabilities. He played and he batted. He would run from home to second base and back to home.”
However, the announcement about Miracle League starting in Hattiesburg was exciting for Pierce.
“When we found out Miracle League was starting here, we jumped all over it,” she said. “He loves playing in McComb. I told the board at the last meeting that when February rolls around, I want us all to take a road trip. I’ll give them a schedule, we’ll pick a Saturday and we’ll all go. You won’t regret it; when you get there and see the excitement in those kids’ eyes and you see the camaraderie between the buddies, it’s awesome.”
Triplett, who has been in youth baseball for 36 years, said he is looking at adding a field at Tatum Park, which has five fields now.
“It is time to take care of that segment of our baseball fans,” he said. “We have 16 people on the board right now. We are finalizing our nonprofit status and by July and August, we should know where we are sitting.”
The special field will not be cheap, Triplett said.
“I think it is going to take $1 million to build the field because it has a rubberized surface and it is a flat, latex-type playing field,” he said. “Besides McComb, there are fields in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.”
Outside involvement is also needed during the games, Triplett said.
“There is a buddy system where each child has someone who helps them, whether it’s running with them or pushing their wheelchair,” he said. “It is not the parent, but someone who interacts with them. McComb has a waiting list for people who want to be buddies.”
Pierce said, “It’s a participation league; it’s not competitive. And it’s for adults as well as children. As much as they want to play, they will let them play.”
Triplett said he has his sights set on opening the league by 2019.
“Every child deserves to play baseball,” he said.