By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The Middleburgh girls varsity basketball team will soon leave the court to become supermodels for a cause that is close to their hearts, their coach said Monday.
Amber Lawrence-Johns said it was more than a year ago when she noticed a car’s bumper sticker that read, “Capital Region Miracle League.” As head coach of the Middleburgh girls’ varsity soccer team, assistant coach to the Middleburgh girls’ varsity basketball team and a lover of all sports, her interest was immediately piqued, she said.
After doing some research, Lawrence-Johns said, she discovered the bumper sticker was in promotion of a league centered in East Greenbush that provides athletic experiences for children and adults with special needs. Lawrence-Johns said she immediately wanted to get her family involved, including her husband, who is also a coach, and her two sons.
“We ended up falling in love with everyone there,” Lawrence-Johns said.
Lawrence-Johns, who owns and runs a successful photography business called Amber J Photography, said after getting to know some of the special needs athletes, she encouraged her basketball team, the Western Athletic Conference Champions who finished 15-4 this year, to volunteer at the “Miracle League” on Saturdays, and was overjoyed when the young women jumped at the chance.
“They didn’t hesitate. And they are so affectionate and kind with the disabled athletes,” Lawrence-Johns said. “They get a lot of hugs. They love doing it.”
The Capital Region Miracle League was founded in 1999 by Burke Adams, whose daughter, Jaime, uses a wheelchair. Jaime loves sports, Adams said, but can only communicate with her eyes and smile. Adams said he wanted to give Jaime and other disabled sports lovers a chance to get in the game and feel a part of that world.
In 2009, Adams said, the town of East Greenbush provided space in the Town Park to create what Adams called a “dream come true”: the Jaime M. Adams Field, which is the first multi-sport facility in the nation that was designed specifically for special needs athletes.
Adams said disabled athletes get the chance to be the stars in bowling, football, soccer and basketball, which Lawrence-Johns’ team members have become involved with.
“Everyone gets a turn to shoot and dribble,” Lawrence-Johns said. “Some of them can do this by themselves, but the girls are there to wheel around the ones who can’t, getting them in the game, too.”
Lawrence-Johns described the Miracle League games as “beautiful” and “eye-opening,” noting the enormous, refreshing differences from usual sporting events. For one, she said, there are no angry, yelling parents. There’s nothing else like it, Lawrence-Johns said.
To spread the word about the organization, Lawrence-Johns said, she decided to sponsor a fashion show in March to raise money for the special cause. Such a wonderful organization should be more in the public eye, she said, and a small-business owner like herself has the perfect opportunity to facilitate this.
Young athletes from Lawrence-Johns’ team, as well as others from the Emma Willard School, Duanesburg, Cobleskill and Bethlehem High Schools, including the entire Bethlehem boys’ swim team, will be modeling the newest fashions from local clothing stores Plato’s Closet, Fleet Feet and Bride and Groom at 7 p.m. on March 28 at 60 State Place in Albany to raise funding for the Miracle League.
Money from the first “Miracle Fashion show” will go toward construction of a clubhouse near the Jaime M. Adams field, complete with handicap accessible bathrooms, concessions, storage and a press box, Adams said. Plans are also underway to install lights for night games, as well as a playground and family pavilion.
Adams said the varsity girls and Lawrence-Johns have been very helpful throughout the season and called them “real sweethearts.” The Miracle League athletes look up to them, he said, and see them as their heroes. Lawrence-Johns said the ladies on her team have become “a little attached,” as well, and have loved getting to spend time with the athletes.
“I’m very proud of them,” Lawrence-Johns said. “You hear a lot of things about crazy teenagers. But in come these ten beautiful, healthy girls, giving up the majority of their Saturdays to help others ... having dance parties, doing the limbo and the hokey pokey with them. Any self-consciousness went out the window.”