Photography by SARAH ODEN
Larry Stebbins, John Towne, Michael Towne
“I never thought a fifteen-minute segment on HBO’s Real Sports could make such a difference in my life.” John Towne, who has been involved with Miracle League of Arkansas in Central Arkansas since its inception, says it still makes him emotional. “I knew that we had to have a special-needs Miracle field here in Arkansas. What I didn’t know was that Rotary Club 99 was already raising funds to build a field at the Junior Deputy Complex.” That field opened in 2006; it has a special surface to accommodate the kids & adults who play baseball there. This league has always operated under the watchful eye of Director Peggy McCall. John served on the inaugural Board of Directors and has also coached every season. “I tell Peggy that if I don’t show up to coach one day, she better check the obituaries,” he adds with a laugh.
John’s sons, Hayden and Michael, helped with the coaching duties or served as “buddies,” who assist the players during games. They both love sports and played baseball at Junior Deputy as kids. When younger son Michael graduated from college, he moved back to Little Rock and was looking for an opportunity to volunteer in the community. With the new competitive division of Miracle League, Peggy recruited Michael as a coach. “I made many lifelong friends when I played at Junior Deputy,” Michael recalls, “I want all my players to have the same experiences and friendships that I had. Our players may have special needs, but they want to perform at their very best, just like we did when we played.” His father was “happy but not surprised” at Michael’s decision to coach. “I’m very proud of his dedication,” John says.
In 2022, another family member joined the Miracle League coaching ranks. “My in-laws had moved to Little Rock, and my father-in-law Larry Stebbins quickly became acquainted with the Miracle League organization.” He serves as a coach alongside John and enjoys interacting with the kids. “The look on the player’s faces when they hit the ball tells it all. I love seeing the pure joy it reflects, for the players, their families, and everyone at the ballpark,” Larry elaborates. With his addition, Miracle League now has three generations in the coaching lineup.
Peggy puts it this way: “The heartbeat of Miracle League starts with the coaches, many who have been there since day one. And the volunteer “buddies” that play side-by-side with the players allow parents to sit in the stands watching like I did with my typical son. One of the most beautiful things at the ballpark is the happy smiles seen on our players and the admiration of the “buddies” who realize these players are like them in so many ways.”
MIRACLE LEAGUE…..it’s more than baseball!