Cheyten at Bat

ESP is currently working to build a local Miracle League park complete with a splash pad, an accessible playground, and a custom-designed baseball field. This inclusive recreational complex will serve children and young adults of all abilities within our community. 

The Miracle League is a national organization unique for its ability to bring baseball and accessible play to young people with special needs. A smooth, rubberized turf on the baseball field allows individuals with physical disabilities to have complete mobility. Volunteers and well-prepared coaches provide a safe and engaging experience for players with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Cheyten Hernandez-Gambill is one of the children who hopes to pay in The ESP Miracle League.  A huge sports fan, Cheyten is on the autism spectrum and has struggled to participate in team sports. Finding a competitive sport that accommodates differently-abled children, who may have delayed motor skills and slower reaction times, can be difficult for parents of children with special needs. Jill Gambill, Cheyten’s mother, knows this all to well and is one of many proactive parents helping to establish The ESP Miracle League in Northeast Georgia. 

For many years, Cheyten struggled to find a sport where he could fit in. He tried football when he was nine years old, but due to his slower reflexes, he would often only take the field for one to two plays when the team was ahead. Many games, he never played at all.

Due to safety concerns, the Gambill family began looking for another sport in fourth grade and found baseball. Cheyten joined Athens Little League, playing from 2016-2018.

Compared to football, baseball allowed Cheyten to flourish.

It provided him with an outlet to lose weight and learn social skills from his interaction with teammates; including how to handle a loss and how to work together. The acceptance and friends he gained are things that Jill says she doesn’t think he would have without playing sports.

“In baseball, everyone has a role to play, regardless of ability,” Jill said.

“Everyone bats and everyone has a field position that they are responsible for. The coaches let every kid play every position to gain experience–they didn’t just always have the most talented kid pitching. The coaches realized that long-term success meant giving every kid the opportunity to try.”

The mentorship of his coaches is what put Cheyten’s team on the path towards victory. At the end of his first regular season, his team won the championship tournament.

When Cheyten turned twelve, it was expected that he should play in the Majors Division; the default for boys that age.

Instead, he had to “play down” in a division for younger kids. It was not an easy process to make happen. Even though Cheyten is on the autism spectrum, his disability isn’t immediately obvious to those around him.

Jill had to submit an application that went all the way up to the National Little League office for him to play AAA instead of Majors.

They had to jump through hoops to get Cheyten on the team, and even then he did not hit a ball all season, said Jill. He was thrilled just to be on the team with his friends, but she knew there was so much more potential for him.

Jill says that The Miracle League can help eliminate the “invisible disability” problem by catering to children of all abilities, whether they use a wheelchair, a walker, or their own two feet.

“When you have a child who is not developing along the same timeline as other children, not hitting the same milestones, this can result in a stark difference in ability,” Jill said.

“It can be unsafe for them to play at the level of other children their age, or they may simply be unwelcome due to the amount of accommodation it requires.”

Despite all of the hoops she’s had to jump through, Jill still has faith in the benefits that Cheyten experiences through baseball. She hopes that The Miracle League can give him more opportunities to play and grow.

“Baseball is our national sport; it is part of our culture and unites people across generations, backgrounds, and beliefs,” she said.

“I’m always amazed at how passionate parents are at baseball games, cheering their child on. Wouldn’t it be amazing for our ESP community to experience that? The Miracle League will enable both sides of that experience–as a player, being celebrated and encouraged on the field and, as a parent, proudly watching your child from the bleachers.”

ESP hopes to establish a local Miracle League–complete with a handicap accessible baseball field–in 2019, dependant on funding.

Click here to learn how you can make a difference for players like Cheyten.

About The Author

Haley Lacuesta

Haley is a fourth year International Affairs & Public Relations double major at the University of Georgia. She is a Marketing & Communications intern at ESP.

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