Jimmy Collins Special AwardsWhile there are many different categories of awards presented by the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee, some years the committee finds that there are people deserving of recognition who do not necessarily fit into one specific category. For that reason, the Committee presents the Jimmy Collins Special Awards to outstanding individuals and organizations. Collins was a longtime New Orleans sportswriter who is credited with creating the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards and forming the awards committee in 1958.
This year's Special Award winner was presented to the Miracle League of New Orleans, an organization which has followed a simple mission to make a major impact through sports on the region's community. The vision of the Miracle League is to provide any disabled child, regardless of their level of disability, the opportunity to play league sports and enjoy the emotional and physical benefits of being part of a team sport.
In addition to promoting the health and well-being of children with disabilities, the Miracle League provides opportunities for able-bodied children to learn about and interact with children with disabilities.
Since 2009, the League has grown to serve more than two hundred families annually, uniting children with special needs, their support systems, and the community in a common bond of sports. The first program introduced, baseball, is still the most popular, but basketball and soccer are seeing growing numbers as the program continues to expand. According to Executive Director Gina Lorio, participants come from across the New Orleans Metro area, often from as far as Slidell, Houma, and Belle Chasse. "We're one huge family. Our parents often want to see these kids included, despite their situations. Things may be limited, but sports don't have to be."
Games are conducted using buddies who assist participants with playing the game. According to Brother Martin Athletic Director Mark Wisniewski, who sponsors a Miracle League game each spring, the buddies often walk away different people. "These kids are making lifelong friendships and building relationships that live on long after the games end. It gives them an opportunity to do and enjoy some of the everyday things that we take for granted."
While the program is operated and supported by Children's Hospital of New Orleans (and a partnership with the Audubon Institute), it relies heavily on community support to keep going. While Lorio never thought the program would have grown this large in such a short amount of time, she only sees it expanding in years to come, based on the growing amount of participation and community support.
Sports connect us all together. Long after the last out, basket, or goal is made, the memories and relationships will live for years to come.
The score might not count, but for everyone involved with The Miracle League of New Orleans, it's a home run.
Story submitted by Tyler Scheuermann of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.
[The Special Awards were renamed in honor of Jimmy Collins prior to the 2015 Hall of Fame event.]