A Miracle League park and playground, which is built specifically to benefit special needs children, may be on the way to Waxahachie. First, those responsible for new park are saying they will need as much help from the community to build the park and you might have to dress up like Santa to do it.
All proceeds from the second annual YMCA 5K Santa Run will go toward building the park, which once plans are finalized, would be placed between The Avenue Church office building and the Waxahachie Family YMCA building. The run is at 10 a.m. next Saturday in downtown Waxahachie, with onsite registration starting at 9 a.m.
The Avenue Church officials are in the preliminary stages of offering to donate about 70 acres of unused land after Jim Markle, the senior associate pastor, and Jason Bankhead, executive pastor at the church, saw a need within the community, they said. YMCA officials currently have an architect looking at the space to see if the project would be feasible.
“At this time, I think the ball is in the YMCA’s court,” Bankhead said. “I’m on the YMCA board, so when I found out they were looking for places, I thought, ‘We’ve got 70 acres, if it was the right fit, we could maybe work something out to where you could put the field on a piece of our property and we could work something out where y’all could do that.’ Now it’s gaining some momentum. The more and more people that are getting on board, the closer it gets to a reality for us, too. I think it’s something we’d be very excited about.”
The Miracle League park allows those of all ages, who are mentally and physically challenged, to participate in an organized baseball league. The t-ball-sized field is made of rubber to allow even those in wheel chairs and walkers to play, and the playground is also modified to allow those with any disability to make it to the top. The first Miracle League field broke ground in December of 1999, after a Youth Baseball Association coach started inviting children with disabilities to play baseball on his team, the website stated. Now, more than 200 Miracle League organizations exist across the country, serving more than 200,000 children and young adults, according to the Miracle League website. Currently, North Texas only has about five Miracle League parks, none of which are located south of Interstate 20.
This park will be able to tie directly into the special needs support ministry that’s started within the last year at The Avenue Church by Markle, who is a father to a special needs son. It will also tie directly into the YMCA’s Angles League, which helps special needs students get involved with sports. This is a way to combine two forces that want to serve the community, Bankhead said.
“It’s a pretty incredible thing to see because you not only see these guys’ thrill of hitting a baseball,” Markle said. “But you also see the encouragement of others. It may take them five minutes run around the basis with a walker, but as they run around third, they start chanting a person’s name to encourage them. It’s a very heartwarming thing.”
The Santa Run brought in about 300 participants last year. This year, the YMCA officials are hoping at least 500 will attend. Right now, about 300 have registered for the event.
“It’s just a neat event. Everyone gets a Santa suit, everyone looks the same as they’re running through the streets,” said Jonathan McLaughlin, Waxahachie Family YMCA’s Executive Director. “It’s always neat to be out there on the route and maybe see cars and people passing by that had no idea what was going on, and they see hundreds of Santas running by them.”
The run is inclusive to all ages, he said, so children, strollers, and well-mannered dogs on leashes are welcome, he said. A mascot race will start at about 9:30 a.m. and a 1-mile Elf run/walk will also start shortly after the 5K event. Participants are encouraged to be creative with their Santa suits, and dress up their dogs.
If people aren’t interested in running, there’s still plenty to see and do, McLaughlin said. This includes seeing a real, live reindeer, bounce houses, food, face-painting and non-permanent Santa tattoos, vendors and live music throughout. The Avenue Church band will play holiday music at the beginning of the race, and then choirs or other church bands may be placed throughout the track route, Bankhead said. After the race is over, in the spirit of the season, the Santas will receive milk and cookies, McLaughlin said.
The 5-K route starts on Franklin Street, downtown, right by the square’s lit Christmas tree, he said. Runners will go west down to Getzendaner Memorial Park, connecting to Jefferson Street. Once they’re in the park, they’ll connect to the runners’ trail and run back up to Rodgers Street to finish at Franklin Street. Runners do have a chance to win trophies and prizes in different categories for men and women, as well as most decorated costume, best decorated dog and best decorated stroller, he said.
Those interested in registering can do so at the YMCA building located at 100 YMCA Dr. or online at www.ymcadallas.org by searching for the Waxahachie location. To register between now and Friday, the cost is $35. To register on the day of the event, the cost is $45. However, the YMCA is offering a $5 discount for those who sign up online through the Waxahachie Running Club. If participants bring in an unwrapped toy between now and Tuesday to the YMCA, $10 will be taken off the registration fee. All Santa suits and a goody-bag are provided with their registration, McLaughlin said. The five-piece Santa suit does include a beard as well, he said.
“The suits aren’t necessarily designed to run in, but most people do. I’d say about 50 percent of the people will run the full time with the beard on, which is applause-worthy,” McLaughlin said. “Other people, like serious runners, they finish with costumes half-gone. They just seem to lose some pieces along the way. So, there is quite a bit of clean-up after the route to make sure we don’t mess up the city. The suits are a spectacle in themselves.”
The cost of the Miracle League park is roughly estimated at about $2 million, McLaughlin said, adding he knows this won’t be the only fundraiser the YMCA has for the facility. He just wants people to understand how this year’s run will help kick-start the process, he said.
“This is huge, and I think it’s one of those things where it makes the event that much more special,” he said. “There are so many runs, and so many niches, and so many great causes, that’s why you get involved. It’s kind of a rallying point, you know? It’s something we can rally behind. We’ve all valued those experiences as kids or adults in sports, to say now that the community can truly offer that to everyone, is just exciting.”