The Wilmington Miracle Field: From Vision to Reality

Associate Professor, Dan Johnson's vision of a Miracle Field in Wilmington was one filled with conviction, passion and dedication.

Johnson's moment of realization came while his son and he visited the Miracle Field location in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the second one ever built. Walking around the field that day made him think about the kids he worked with in Wilmington, and he knew it was something he was supposed to do.

Johnson said it was a long, difficult process: from convincing sponsors it was a good idea to the construction of the field. "You just have to talk to people," he said. "You have no resources whatsoever, and you have nothing to go on."

The project was set back a year and a half by the recession of 2008, and during that time no one would talk to him about money.

"It was really a project against all odds," Johnson said. "But we just didn't quit."

In the end, perseverance proved worthwhile. Johnson started a nonprofit, found some sponsors and started a board and a campaign.

Currently, there are 300 Miracle Fields around the world, devoted almost entirely to playing baseball. Johnson said they looked at it from a university standpoint, and the idea of spending a million dollars to only play baseball was not a good use of resources.

The Miracle Field of Wilmington is 33,000 square feet, in comparison to the average 12,000 feet of other fields, and the playground is equally as big.

Johnson said they came up with hundreds of thousands of extra dollars to have the surface of the playground made out of rubber and wide enough for wheelchairs.

"We're the go to," Johnson said. "If you want to see how to do it big, this is where you go."

Currently, the field is being used to play baseball and soccer. On March 17, the first-ever research project will begin, consisting of a six-week program on fitness and movement for older people with disabilities who live in group homes.

"It's a lab," Johnson said. Beyond its size, that's the other factor that makes the field unique.

In recent months, the field has attracted attention from the School of Nursing and the School of Social Work, interested in how they can get their students involved in the programs.

He anticipates a busy future, open to the possibilities of collaborations with psychology, criminal justice, education and more.

"It's like endless potential," he said.

The most rewarding aspect has been the families and players. He recounts to a time when the father of a participant pointed to her on the field and said, "This is the only hour of the week she has no troubles."

For Johnson, the field is a place of great hope. It's a place that creates opportunities for disabled people from ages three to 100 who otherwise wouldn't have opportunity.

"It's very meaningful that you could change someone's health and quality of life," he said. "That's a good thing."