How Mikey’s League Fosters Community Through Inclusive Sports
By Melissa Wickes
June 3, 2022
Due to Cerebral Palsy and a backwards heart, Michael “Mikey” Bender was never supposed to live past the age of three and he was never supposed to walk. However, he was born into a family that wasn’t going to accept anything less than a “normal” childhood for him.
To Mikey’s family, a “normal” childhood meant playing sports together with your friends and family—put simply, inclusive sports. At the time, there weren’t many intramural programs for kids like Mikey, so he played backyard sports with his brothers and the neighborhood kids—resulting in some of the best memories for Mikey and his family.
In 2008, at the age of 21, Mikey passed away while his older brother Carl was deployed in Iraq. When Carl returned home for Mikey’s funeral, his unit was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED), and it would have killed him had he been there.
Carl wanted to find a way to honor his brother Mikey through the one thing they loved doing most together—sports. So, he retired from the military and Mikey’s League was born.
What is Mikey’s League?
Mikey’s League is a program where kids with physical or cognitive disabilities can play inclusive sports in an inclusive environment. The mission of Mikey’s League is to challenge the idea that kids with disabilities need to be treated differently, so kids of all abilities are invited to play together at Mikey’s League.
Watch the video below to get a better understanding of what Mikey’s League does for the community:
Often, kids with disabilities are used to watching sports “from the bleachers,” explains Scott Freeman, co-founder and executive director of Mikey’s League. These programs are fully inclusive, inviting kids to finally play the sports they may have been accustomed to only watching their peers and idols play in the past.
Mikey’s League offers 90-minute inclusive sports sessions once a week—with 45 minutes of drills and 45 minutes of playing. To incorporate all abilities into the programs, rules are changed on an as needed basis. Simple modifications are made to different games to ensure everyone is able to participate—and a kid who is used to watching from the sidelines is in the game. Kids of all abilities play together at Mikey’s League because they believe in inclusion-based programs, where children aren’t separated based on their abilities.
Mikey’s League relies on professional staff and LeagueApps technology to keep their programs running smoothly. For their basketball programs, they had four former Division 1 basketball players coaching and partnered with KinectAbility Athletics—a program that focuses on the fitness development of individuals with disabilities—to develop a curriculum.
By using LeaueApps at no charge, Mikey’s League is able to streamline reporting and data collection to help the program grow. Last basketball season, the program had fifty athletes and they expect even more next year.
How You Can Support Mikey’s League and Inclusive Sports
Mikey’s League is one of the many impactful FundPlay partners we believe is positively impacting the youth sports world today. To support this incredible organization, and all of the kids that benefit from it, you can make a donation here.
To learn more about our FundPlay program or nominate an exceptional organization for a grant, click here.