Eau Claire Man Raising Awareness for Kids with Disabilities
May 15, 2018
The Miracle League of the Chippewa Valley was new to the Eau Claire area last June, and this summer the league is gearing up for its second year with 103 kids signed up, 31 more than last year. This unique league was largely made possible by Tim Wavrunek, whose love for baseball motivated him to give kids with disabilities the opportunity to play the game.
Miracle League baseball is played on a rubberized field so every participant can play safely whether they’re blind, use crutches or are limited to a wheelchair. During the game, every child hits, scores and the game always ends in a tie.
Each child is partnered up for the season with a “buddy” who assists them throughout the game. The parents of the children are not allowed to be a “buddy”; it’s their time to watch their child(ren) play baseball from the bleachers and not have to be with them on the field. This program is open to anyone ages 4 through 19 with a physical or cognitive disability.
Wavrunek is just a volunteer for the Miracle League. He works as board chair for Choose Aftercare Inc., a program that helps recently released prisoners re-enter the community by providing transitional housing in Eau Claire. Wavrunek also works for the Restorative Justice Program, a program for juveniles that focuses on the individual rather than the consequences they face in the legal system.
Wavrunek was inspired to start up the Miracle League after watching a special on ESPN about a little boy named Josiah who suffers from Progeria, a rare disease that afflicts less than 1,000 children in the United States per year. This disease rapidly ages the body; so when Josiah was 8, he already had the body of an 80-year-old.
Josiah played on a Little League team and got to go to a Philadelphia Phillies game where he met the team and got to spend time with Ryan Howard, his favorite baseball player. What Josiah experienced is what Wavrunek wants Chippewa Valley children to be able to experience.
In the Miracle League, Wavrunek has several different jobs. He’s co-chair of the advisory board, puts together all the committees, takes part in a “draft” that assigns players to teams, recruits volunteers, announces games and fills in wherever else is needed.
Wavrunek’s preference is to work with people, and even though he’s been exposed to this environment from working in the human services field for more than 20 years, he says that “daily experiences change us every day.”
Wavrunek was a guest on Sports Talk 105.1 in April 2017, which was a couple of months before opening day of the Miracle League. This allowed him to raise awareness of the Miracle League, shining a new light on the kids involved.
Wavrunek said the Miracle League is a great opportunity for the community and that there’s a lot of satisfaction from this program.
“It’s very rewarding to see the sheer joy on the kids’ faces, and it’s also a reward to see people not exposed to disabilities be exposed,” he said.
Wavrunek said the Miracle League is an organization of people finding themselves in the same situations, and in this case the commonality is relationships and how the need or desire for one is constant. By being involved in this program, Wavrunek is making the relationship opportunity available to the children apart of the Miracle League and filling a need. According to Wavrunek, this program is a broader view of what’s going on in the community because more residents are hearing about the Miracle League and what it does for children with disabilities.
“The focus in the past hasn’t been on kids with disabilities,” Wavrunek said.
Wavrunek says that what makes the Miracle League special is that it actually happened. The rubberized field cost $500,000 and donations from local businesses were gladly accepted. Whenever a business donates to the Miracle League, it would get recognized during one of the games.
As Major League Baseball season is already underway, Wavrunek is excited to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play as he looks forward to June 11: opening day for the Miracle League.