The Miracle League of Northwest Ohio’s mission is clear: to provide opportunities for children and adults to play baseball, regardless of their abilities.
For 21-year-old Woodville resident Nourm Freyer, the Northwood-based organization has done just that.
“Baseball is a sport that everyone can relate to,” said Freyer, who was born with spina bifida. “It’s called the national pastime for a reason. People love the game.”
Freyer, a 2010 graduate of Woodmore High School, is bound to a wheelchair, but his physical disabilities are not preventing him from playing his favorite sport.
“It’s a way for him to physically go out there and play the game he loves,” said Stacey Rowland, Freyer’s older sister and a Miracle League board member. “That’s what the Miracle League is all about, letting children with a disability come out and enjoy America’s sport.”
Rowland, 25, said the volunteer-run organization has helped her brother, who is an avid New York Yankees fan, realize his lifelong dream of playing baseball.
“He loves baseball,” she said. “Now he has an opportunity to play the game.”
Freyer said he would not be enjoying all of the fun that the Miracle League has to offer if it were not for the watchful eye of his sister.
“She saw a story in the newspaper about the league last year, so she contacted them and signed me up,” said Freyer, who visited Yankee Stadium with his family in August for the first time.
The Miracle League was founded in Georgia in 1998. In its 14-year history, the league has rapidly grown and now serves over 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities in more than 250 locations worldwide.
Jeff Barton, Miracle League of Northwest Ohio president, said the organization gives special-needs children and adults like Freyer the opportunity to showcase their abilities and partake in the same activities that children without disabilities do.
“Many kids and adults with disabilities have a strong interest in sports,” he said, “but there just aren’t many opportunities available to them.”
Barton said sports played a key role in his development as a youth. He worked tirelessly to raise the funds and support that brought the Miracle League to northwest Ohio in 2006 because he said he could not imagine children with disabilities not having the same opportunities that he had.
“A lot of times, these kids get underestimated,” said Barton, a Northwood native who now resides in Walbridge. “In reality they can do most of the things that you or I can do, but they do it in a different way or at a slower pace.”
A sense of humor
After fouling off a couple of pitches in his first at-bat last Sunday, Freyer finally connected and sped to first base. When he arrived, he spun around in his shiny red wheelchair and pointed to a friend standing along the right-field fence.
His friend is Jennifer Schwartz, a middle-aged resident of Ottawa Lake, Mich., and a proud supporter of the Miracle League.
“He’s so funny,” Schwartz said with a grin, as Freyer refocused his attention on the pitcher’s mound.
Schwartz and her husband, Carl, have been Toledo Mud Hens season ticket holders for four years — the same number of years Freyer has served as a greeter for the triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
Schwartz said she and her husband immediately gravitated toward Freyer because of his outgoing personality.
“He’s funny at work — always cracking jokes, always being friendly to people coming and going,” she said. “Nourm is just a very pleasant person.”
When Freyer alerted the Schwartzes of his participation in the Miracle League, they immediately began attending his games. Freyer said they haven’t missed one yet.
Rowland, a special education teacher at Anthony Wayne Junior High, said all of the attention her brother receives is nothing new.
“Since he has been a little boy, he has always attracted everyone to him,” she said. “He loves to laugh and joke with people. He is the complete package.”
Freyer displayed his sly sense of humor after the game when asked why the outfielders backed up when he came up to bat for the final time.
“They were probably intimidated,” he said with a laugh.
(Information on the Miracle League can be found at www.mlnwo.org)