NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - There is magic every week on a baseball diamond in Chalmette. Young people who can’t walk or run the bases and kids who struggle to hold a bat can knock the ball out of the park. It’s a baseball game that’s anything but ordinary.
“We never thought we’d be here playing baseball,” said Jill Gaillot, standing beside her wheelchair-bound daughter, Gabrielle.
For these athletes, it’s an extraordinary chance to soar. Bryan Joseph Schultz has Down Syndrome.
“I feel great cause I have energy. I feel powerful!” he said.
The team is called the League of Angels. Young people with disabilities displaying abilities that they never imagined.
Courtney Nunez is the founder.
“I never thought this was going to happen. It was an idea, and it became a reality. It’s amazing,” she said.
Courtney got the ball rolling a year ago on the non-profit. She watched special needs athletes play in New Orleans with the Miracle League and was especially impressed with one young lady. Jordan Meche, 37, was born with a rare genetic disorder.
“Jordan was my inspiration because her mom would go all the way to Slidell or New Orleans to be involved with the sports league. I said we need to do something closer to home,” she said.
“I decided to talk to President Mcginnis, and I said we should start the league just for special needs and handicapped just so they can be part of this community," she said.
Chalmette High School senior Gabrielle Gaillot runs the bases with help from her big brother, Zack.
“She has a power chair she doesn’t like to use because she wants her brother to go around the bases as fast as he can,” her mother said. “The crowd goes crazy because they think she’s going to fall, but she doesn’t!”
Ten-year-old Glen Walker was born with strikes against him.
“It started out with brain cancer. He had brain surgery at 18 months, and by the time he was 2 he was diagnosed with autism and he’s still here, so we’re good,” said his dad, Clint Walker.
Kandice Vogel is the co-founder.
“We have steps for them to put their feet on and show them where to stand in the box. We have the turf sealed and the bases that are flat so they won’t trip and fall,” Vogel said.
Mary Miller’s autistic grandson James Dobson blossoms here.
“When I run to home base, I usually slide,” James said.
“He slides every time! When he makes that home run, he usually slides in - that’s his favorite,” his grandmother added.
August Hill was born with a missing piece in the center of his brain. His mother, Tanya Hill, says he’s happy on this field.
“I find his comfort zone is here. He’s excited before the game, during the game and after the game,” she said.
Volunteers have as much fun as the athletes, helping the Angels to score.
Vogel said there is a sidekick assigned to each child so they can know where to go to run the bases.
Jordan Meche was the inspiration for the league in St. Benard Parish, but it’s a miracle she can play the game. Her mother, Denise Meche, remembers the grim advice doctors gave her years ago.
“She’s has Cornelia de Lang Syndrome. She’s not going to be able to do anything, so you may as well put her in an institution,” Meche said as she described the doctor’s words. “I said, ‘she’s 20 pounds and 2-and-a-half. I’m not going to do that.’ She said, ‘Just take her home and love her, then,’” Meche said.
Love helped Jordan defy the odds and inspire.
“People have told me they’ve had a rough day, and Jordan smiles and it makes it better,” Meche said.
Everything is better on this field of possibilities.
“It was a hard road, something to accept that your child may never get married and have kids and do things my son is doing. But, we come out, and she plays ball with her brother. The kids and the parents and this community are so excited to have this!” Gaillot said.
“They love it, all of them,” Meche said. “They’re competitive, but when someone hits the ball, they all cheer. They celebrate each other. They’re angels.”
The St. Bernard Parish Sports Hall of Fame provides the fencing and also the money for the special field. Generous community sponsors help keep the games going. Kickball and basketball are next on the schedule.