By Carina Sorrentino
On Saturday, September 20, members of the Union Football team ventured to East Greenbush for their annual day of volunteer service with The Miracle League.
The Miracle League was founded in 1999 as a response to the overwhelming number of disabled children in Atlanta, Ga., who had never received the opportunity to participate in sports. It now has over 250 locations nationwide.
The program gives children with a variety of disabilities, including those in wheelchairs or with walkers, the chance to play sports like baseball to football in a safe and friendly environment.
The Miracle League in East Greenbush is only a short 30 minutes away from Union. Saturday morning’s visit was conducted by Union Football Head Coach John Audino and 11 football players. While only there for a few hours, it was clear that even beyond the gates of Union, these athletes maintain an interest in enriching the community.
The young men played flag football with a variety of people with disabilities, from 10-year-olds to those in their early twenties.
This is something that the team does every year, and Tyler Valenti ’16 served as a liaison to the organization this year, encouraging his teammates to get involved.
“It’s one of those instances where waking up at 9:00 am on a Saturday morning doesn’t initially sound appealing, but when you think about the cause, then you see the kids show up and enjoy themselves, it just turns into a lot of fun for everyone,” Valenti stated. “Everyone who goes is great with the kids who are there to play, and it’s really amazing for us and them.”
Similarly, in the winter and spring, the team hosts an ongoing mentoring program with fourth- and fifth-grade boys at Pleasant Valley Elementary School.
Each Union player is paired up with a child for the term and spends about 30 minutes helping the children with their homework.
The next 30 minutes or so are spent playing football and working on the children’s athletic skills.
Both programs represent a commitment that it is often difficult to make for any athlete. With rigorous schedules for practices, lifting, games and academics, spare time is not taken for granted.
While it may be hard to dedicate time to anything outside of the sport and schoolwork, Valenti says that these programs are more than worth it.
“We’re a small Division III school, but it’s always fun to see, with this and with the mentoring program, how excited the community is about what we do. The kids at The Miracle League had us signing programs for them, and that is just really something for us,” he stated.
The players who volunteer do so wholeheartedly, and usually after participating once, they will be found there the following year.
Kyle Kalanta ’15 stated, “This is my first time being involved with the event, and my favorite part was in between the games when we got to meet the kids and interact with them a little more personally. It was great to see how they interacted with each other, and when we were off the field we could really get to know who they were as people, which was extremely rewarding.”
When questioned about the importance of making an effort outside of the demands of playing a sport, Valenti remarked that “it’s just as important as anything you do on the field, because you don’t realize how influential the program is until you’re hanging out with kids who can name your stats and records while they ask you for autographs, and their parents are there looking at you in such a positive way. It’s so important to give back for all of the support that you’re getting.”
Later in the season, some of the kids from The Miracle League will be shuttled to Union to watch their favorite players in action, something that all of the players are looking forward to.
Union students continually report that volunteer work is filled with a reciprocity of positivity and learning.
The Miracle League and the Union football team will continue to foster a relationship over the next few years.