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In Miracle League of LI, everyone's a winner

Jayson Torres, 13, of Howard Beach is wheeled to home plate at The Miracle League of Long Island's game at SBU Saturday, above. Below, SBU basketball player Carson Puriefoy helps Jake bat. Photos by Alyssa Melillo

September 16, 2013 | 03:43 PM
Jayson Torres, 13, of Howard Beach, has been playing baseball for three years, is a member of a league and got to play in a game at Stony Brook University's Joe Nathan Field Saturday morning, sporting a Yankees sweatshirt while he did.

Torres is wheelchair-bound due to his Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a case of muscle degeneration in boys — and the baseball league he is in is unlike many others.

The Miracle League of Long Island is an organization that allows children of all ages and disabilities to play baseball in a judgment-free zone while improving their self-esteem and socialization skills. Kristine Fitzpatrick, president and founder of the national group's Long Island chapter, based in Farmingville, seeks out local volunteers to help out with games and other events throughout the year. Saturday's game at SBU, she said, was the biggest one the chapter has had yet.

"This is the highlight of The Miracle League since we started," Fitzpatrick said. "Stony Brook has been absolutely phenomenal on putting this event together. I cannot express my gratitude enough for what they did for our league today."

Fitzpatrick reached out to the SBU athletics department in the spring, looking for students and athletes to volunteer with The Miracle League. After working with Vincent Accardi, director of corporate sales and ticketing operations for SBU athletics, and Andrea Lebedinski, coordinator of annual giving and branding, The Miracle League and SBU athletics eventually formed a partnership that Fitzpatrick said she hopes will be a long-term one.

Each of the 140 kids who participated in Saturday's game had a buddy from SBU and The Miracle League to help them bat and run the bases. Fitzpatrick said the organization brought in more than 200 volunteers, while Lebedinski said SBU athletics brought in about 150.

The students from SBU who volunteered at the game spent time out on the field with their buddies when they weren't up at bat: they played catch, wheeled them around in their wheelchairs or adapted strollers and even danced to the music that blared from the intercom. Athletes agreed that the event was both a fun and rewarding experience.

"I love it," said Shayla Giosia, a junior on the women's softball team whose buddy was a little girl in an adapted stroller named Isabella. "It teaches you a lot. It just makes you want to help them."

"It's a chance to come out and give back to the community," said Carson Puriefoy, a sophomore on the men's basketball team whose buddy was a young boy named Jake. "We're role models for these kids."

Parents watched their kids as they excitedly ran the bases with their buddies. Many said that The Miracle League was the perfect fit for their child, as it keeps him or her active.

"It's great. It's absolutely fantastic," said Lauren Schreck of Centereach. Her 4-year-old son, Ian, has epilepsy and this year was his first year participating in The Miracle League. "It gets him outside, gets him around kids who are similar to him."

For 13-year-old Jayson Torres, that is exactly what he said his favorite part about playing baseball with The Miracle League was: "Meeting new friends."

"Every child gets up to bat, ever child hits a homerun, every child scores," Fitzpatrick said. "And everybody wins."

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