Miracle League holds benefit game with local celebrities, professional athletes

A benefit game was held at the L.C. Bird High School Sports Complex Sunday, Oct. 23, for The Miracle League of Richmond, where the King of Diamonds – an entertaining four-man softball exhibition team – competed against a group of local celebrities.

The “Underdogs,” as they were named by the teasing King of Diamonds, consisted of local and regional players and coaches, as well as members of the Richmond Squirrels organization. Former Major Leaguer Johnny Grubb, a native of Chester, led the Underdogs; three local college baseball coaches also were on the team: Ray Hedrick from Randolph Macon College; Paul Keyes from VCU; and Mark McQueen from the University of Richmond.

John Lasser, director of broadcasting for the Richmond Squirrels, and Todd “Parney” Parnell, Squirrels’ vice president and COO (chief operating officer), represented the region’s Minor League Baseball team on the team of celebrities. Also, catcher Holly-Thomas Stargardt, a junior softball player from Cosby High School, and pitcher Amber Gibson from Kenston Forest High School in Blackstone, Va., played for the Underdogs.

All proceeds from the game went directly to The Miracle League of Richmond, an organization sponsored by the Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation which provides accessible recreational opportunities for children with special needs.

“Many families with children who have disabilities don’t participate in organized sport,” said Karen Pusey, president of the league since 2005. “The Miracle League is one opportunity for them to be part of a sport, regardless of what their challenges are.”

A Miracle League game was played earlier that afternoon for numerous children in the organization. Children, from age 5-16, with an array of intellectual and physical disabilities played a complete game of baseball on a rubberized turf field that closely resembles a basketball court – only there are base paths and dugouts.

Children with autism, Down’s syndrome, youth diabetes, among other kinds of challenges, participate in the league.

“It’s absolutely tremendous what The Miracle League does,” said David Wyman, Chesterfield County School Board member from the Dale District. “We have a multitude of great school-based programs for people with disabilities; but nothing compares to being out here and seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces.”

After the game, children playing in the league, their parents, and other spectators then gathered at L.C. Bird High School’s softball field a few hundred feet away. There they were introduced to the King of Diamonds team – a team of four American men that travels the world each year providing family softball entertainment for various fundraising events ranging from youth organizations, military bases, church groups, to civic organizations and communities, according to its website.

Players from the King of Diamonds, formally known as the King and His Court, played the game in an unorthodox method, creating their own rules of the game – like cutting across the field to safely reach base, or calling the game in their favor. Also, they performed stunt pitches, either behind their back, under their legs, and once pitched a grapefruit to a batter. Throughout the game, they would completely stop play and perform comedy routines for the crowd.

The day before the benefit game, the team had participated in a benefit game for Wounded Warriors in Los Angeles, Calif., for war veterans returning home from overseas.

“If anything makes this country great, it’s what’s going on here today with The Miracle League and yesterday with the Wounded Warriors,” said Rich Hoppe, the leader of the King of Diamonds.


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