At Frazer, we like to think of each adult participant as an all-star. But one in particular recently earned that title, and he has the baseball jersey to prove it. Gregory Montford was selected to represent South Fulton in the 2022 Miracle League National All-Star Game.
The Miracle League is a nonprofit that was founded in 1998 in Conyers, Georgia. The idea was to give all children, regardless of abilities, the opportunity to play baseball. Each child is partnered with a “buddy” who assists that child in any way necessary. It did not take long to realize that, even with the help of buddies, the grass fields were an obstacle for children who use wheelchairs or other ambulatory aids.
So by the year 2000, the first Miracle League complex was built. It includes a “cushioned, rubberized surface to help prevent injuries, wheelchair accessible dugouts, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to [wheelchair users] or players [with visual impairments],” according to the Miracle League website.
Word and enthusiasm spread, and today there are 300 Miracle League Associations in 46 of the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, and Australia.
The South Fulton Miracle League Association does not have a special rubberized field, but they are hoping to eventually build one. Gregory has played baseball with South Fulton for seven years. He started off by hitting balls off a tee, and now he can hit a homerun without any assistance. He’s a well-rounded athlete with experience in soccer, basketball, and bowling. He has also been an equestrian for over ten years after a summer camp excursion to a hippotherapy program.
Gregory attended Frazer Center as a preschooler. Once he was in kindergarten, Gregory’s mother Lisa put him on the waiting list to receive the waiver from Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). This waiver would allow him to receive support services once he graduated from high school. That happy occasion occurred in 2020, but DBHDD informed them that Gregory was still going to have to wait two more years to receive his waiver.
Before Gregory’s graduation, Lisa had reached out to the Frazer Center to see about the possibility of receiving support services with the waiver, but now that Gregory was still on the waiting list, “I was going to have to pay out of pocket,” says Lisa. “I work. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
That’s when she heard from Frazer’s Adult Services Director at the time, Bill Payne. Bill invited Gregory to come spend a day at Frazer, and he invited Lisa to apply for scholarship funding. He was determined to find a way to provide the support the Montfords were seeking.
Gregory remembered Frazer Center when he and his mom first arrived on the campus. “He walked right in and acted like he had been there ever since preschool,” says Lisa. “I truly did not know where Gregory was going to go because everywhere else we would have had to pay out-of-pocket. Frazer was a blessing for us. He really loves it here.”
Steve Bonacci is Gregory’s primary direct support professional. Since Gregory is mostly non-speaking, he uses a NOVA chat device to help him communicate with Steve and others. Steve is teaching Gregory and other adult participants some basic cooking skills that they can use at home. Gregory is very helpful in the kitchen, making sure that his peers have what they need to participate in the cooking process. “Gregory is sociable, friendly, kind, and helpful,” says Lisa. In addition to playing sports, “he loves music, interacting with people, and staying busy. He enjoys his life.”
Gregory especially enjoyed traveling to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the Miracle League All-Star Game. He and Lisa were treated to a weekend of fun and festivities, and Gregory showed his All-Star abilities when he slid home during one of his at-bats.
The Murfreesboro Miracle League rubberized field was built thanks to the generosity of MLB player David Price, a pitcher with the LA Dodgers. If only Atlanta had MLB players who would follow David Price’s example and help Gregory’s team get that rubberized field. (Hint, hint, Bravos!)
Meanwhile, Gregory will continue to improve his game, and Lisa will continue to find more opportunities for him, as she has done his entire life. When asked if she has any advice for parents of young children with disabilities, she says, “find a support group, ask as many questions as you can, and lean on the people who have been where you are. And advocating is the biggest piece for me.” Gregory’s full and fulfilling life is evidence of her wisdom and advocacy.
Learn more about the Miracle League HERE.
Learn more about the South Fulton Miracle League HERE.