Brother Martin savors opportunity to raise money, bring smiles for Miracle League

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Brother Martin

Barely two weeks after accepting another athletic position at Brother Martin, Mark Wisniewski gets a chance this Saturday to take part in another phase of baseball – completely unlike any other.

For the eighth consecutive year. the former Crusaders head baseball coach of 21 years – now the school’s newly-minted athletic director – will oversee an event called the ‘Miracle Weekend’.

And a miracle it truly is.

The Crusaders’ student athletes will huddle up under the ‘buddy system’ with a disabled youngster in two baseball games at the Martin diamond at 9:30 and 11 a.m., preceded by a clinic at 9 a.m. The activities also include an auction.

Wisniewski first heard about the Miracle League of Greater New Orleans through a friend when the organization was looking for a director. That contact spawned an idea.

“We wanted our baseball team to be a part of it,” said Wisniewski, who cites three reasons for the resulting partnership.

“One, is obviously to help out disabled kids.

“Two, would be to show our players how fortunate they are and, three, we could use the auction to raise money.

“And,” he added, “this thing has exploded.”

In the past seven years, this event has raised staggering amounts — between $10,000 and $15,000 annually for the Miracle League.

One of Wisniewski’s former players, Keagen Gillies, wanted to help raise funds so he told his father Keith of that objective. Keith Gillies got Ameritas, a financial company involved, as he also sought out other companies for assistance.

Some of those donations have amounted to more than $20,000, said Wisniewski.

As for the games, the Crusaders do everything possible to simulate a regular high school matchup.

The Martin roster is split into two squads, with each player assigned to a buddy. The players are introduced just like a game; they line up along the baselines just like a game and one disabled youngster even sings the National Anthem. There is a color guard on hand as well as the Brother Martin band.

Afield, the players warm up by hitting in the batting cage. During the game, they hit, field and pitch just like a regular contest.

Many of the Crusaders players parents also assume an active role in the effort by donating and preparing the food.

The on-the-field portion of the event usually involves between 60 and 100 Miracle kids, whose efforts tug at the heartstrings of those in attendance.

“It is something to see — kids without legs, kids in wheelchairs, kids with IVs, all taking part,” said Wisniewski. “I really think our players might even get more out it.

“What happens this weekend is absolutely incredible,” he said. “It will break your heart, yet make you smile.”

A smile crosses Wisniewski’s face when he thinks back to a particular play that took place during the first year in 2010.

“One of the Miracle kids hits a ball to right field and our right-fielder throws him out at first base. I said to him, ‘What in the world are you doing’?”

Everyone on hand this Saturday will combine efforts to accomplish a world of good — even if someone happens to throw to the wrong base.

Score that one E9.

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Bill Bumgarner

Bill Bumgarner

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Born in Freeport, Texas, Bill moved to New Orleans in 1955. From that point on, Bumgarner has called this city home. Bill graduated from New Orleans Academy in 1967 before heading to Lafayette for college. He is a 1971 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) with a degree in liberal arts in political science. Bumgarner cut his teeth in journalism as a writer with the school’s newspaper for three years,. Bill was then hired at The States-Item on Dec. 22, 1972 and remained on staff when that publication merged with the Times-Picayune. As primary assignments, Bumgarner covered…

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