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Miracle League

One section of the Miracle League of Sioux City complex is pictured in March 2017.

For a city our size, Sioux City continues to outperform when it comes to sports. Our community has a rich history of high school, collegiate and professional sports. Later this fall, Sioux City will host a sporting event that many of you probably have never seen – Miracle League baseball.

Miracle League baseball is played by children and adults with special needs. The games typically last two innings and everyone scores. The players always give 100%. The crowds always cheer. No crazy parents screaming at their son, daughter or 13-year old umpire. Smiles all around. It’s all good. It’s baseball in its purest form.

The city of Sioux City will host the 2019 Miracle League All-Star Celebration on September 6 and 7 at the Miracle League complex in Riverside Park. At last count, there will be more than 100 special athletes from 21 states coming to town. These kids are special in so many ways. Despite their physical challenges, Miracle League athletes have learned to not only cope, but to excel. Many of them have designated “buddies” who help them on their trip around the bases.

Even though the Miracle League complex is the most-visited park in the city, I have a hunch many of you have never seen the facility. Kevin Negaard is the man behind the curtain. Kevin and I have a lot in common. We both love baseball and kids with special needs. We differ in the way we responded to our passions. Kevin stuck his neck out and raised the money needed to build the Miracle League Park. I sat on the sidelines and admired his work.

Kevin has given me a chance to come off the bench. He bestowed on me the title of “Commissioner” for the 2019 Miracle League All-Star Celebration in Sioux City. That job comes with zero pay and the challenge to raise the funds needed to support this endeavor. Here’s where you come in.

Taking a page from the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, the Miracle League is holding a “player draft” of our special athletes. For $250, you can “draft” one of the 100-plus players coming to Sioux City for All Star weekend. The $250 gift scores you a commemorative Miracle League All Star bat and an invitation to record a 30-second video greeting that will be emailed to the athlete you draft.

These special athletes have great nicknames. Greg is wheelchair bound. His nickname is “Wheels." Hannah has cerebral palsy. On the field she’s “The Jewel." Kyle has Down’s Syndrome. When he tugs on his baseball cap, he’s “Captain America."

If you can help, drop me a note at jim.wharton@ymail.com and I’ll fill you in on the details. Regardless, I hope we have big crowds at Miracle League Park on September 6 and 7. Five minutes watching these kids play is all you need to see. It’s good for the soul.

***

One final note. I feel compelled to add a few comments about a friend, the late Frank LaMere. Bev and I had the honor of attending Frank’s funeral mass at St. Augustine’s Indian Mission in Winnebago on June 20. It was a beautiful sendoff to a real leader. The church was packed. Worshipers filled the church basement and even sat in lawn chairs on the grassy lawn in front of the parish. In his homily, Fr. Mark Beran shared a conversation he had with Frank during his illness. He told Fr. Mark that he had made a promise to God long ago. As long as he drew a breath, he wanted to serve others. Frank nailed that pledge.

My relationship with Frank didn’t start off on a positive note. In late 1992, during my term on the City Council, we moved forward with our plan to build a baseball stadium and bring a professional baseball team to Sioux City. It was our intention to name the new team the Sioux City Soos – a reflection of Sioux City’s rich Native American and baseball past. I thought it was a great idea. Frank thought I was crazy. He gave me a 30-minute history of Native Americans in Siouxland and shared with me the many ways we dishonored our first residents. It took us awhile to get there, but the council ultimately agreed that we should respect those sentiments. Thus, the Sioux City Explorers.

Siouxland will miss Frank. I hope someone emerges to fill the role he played as the conscience of our community.

Next week: Steve Warnstadt

Jim Wharton, of Sioux City, is a former member of the Sioux City Council and a former mayor of Sioux City. He and his wife, Beverly, have one daughter, Dr. Laura Giese, and four grandchildren.

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