In the world of baseball, Patty Coker-Bolt doesn’t consider herself a star. No, this humble healer views herself more as a reliable base runner than glory-filled grand slammer. But since she was recruited to the Charleston Miracle League (CML) in 2004, her volunteer efforts have added up to one winning home run after another for the special needs children of the Lowcountry.
No philanthropy rookie, Coker-Bolt joined the newly formed CML board of directors shortly after completing a medical mission trip to South Africa. “I returned energized to work in the community,” says the special education teacher-turned-occupational therapist. Frustrated with the lack of peer-play opportunities available to her clients, she was excited to learn of the CML’s aim to develop a state-of-the-art baseball complex to serve mentally and physically challenged youth. “As a therapist, I can work on motor skills all day, but our early roles with teams and friends shape our lives,” she explains. “It’s important for every kid to feel that they are a part of something bigger.”
All-Star: (Clockwise from top right) Cheering with the Red Sox after a Charleston Miracle League (CML) game; volunteering as a “buddy” for a CML player; Phase III groundbreaking for the Joe Griffith Miracle Field; Coker-Bolt evaluates the feeding skills of a sick infant during a medical mission trip to Uganda.
For example, take 17-year-old Sarah Lyles, who suffered a debilitating stroke at age five and has been working with Coker-Bolt since. Understanding that time in a clinic makes up just a small piece of treatment, the therapist got Sarah revved up for the first 2004 fall season and developed adaptations that allowed her to hit from a tee and catch a ball in her lap. “Patty ensured that Sarah got the optimal experience, and the Miracle League made her feel like she was part of a team instead of just a spectator,” says her mother, Rebecca Long.
And for the last seven years, Coker-Bolt has encouraged other patients to venture off the sidelines and take their turns at bat. As an assistant professor at MUSC and a firm believer in service learning, she has also recruited her therapy students to hit the field on Saturday mornings in order to help keep the games running.
In addition to stepping up to the plate as a volunteer, cheerleader, and grant writer, this MVP served as president of the CML board from 2007 to 2009. During her tenure, Coker-Bolt launched the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser, Bridging the Gap Through Baseball, which has raised more than $100,000 for CML. She helps organize participants and their families on an annual, all-expenses-paid trip to a Braves game at Atlanta’s Turner Field. And she offers practical know-how on making the sport safe and beneficial for the players.
“It’s great to have her knowledge and background,” says Betsy Ellingson, CML’s current president. “Patty is quite selfless in the way she spends her time and resources.” But it’s her boundless energy, passion, and dedication that place this caregiver’s efforts in a whole new ball park.
Patty graduated from MUSC with a degree in occupational therapy in 1998; she has taught at the university since 2005.
CML’s 16-week fall 2011 season kicked off on September 24.
CML’s $500,000 Joe Griffith Miracle Field facility in West Ashley boasts a rubberized field, stadium seating, an announcer’s booth, a concession stand, and handicap-accessible restrooms.
Strength in Numbers:
In Charleston County, there are almost 7,000 children and 37,000 adults with disabilities. CML reaches about 80 youth and 80 adult players with disabilities and their families each season.
The PlayToday! Foundation aims to enhance the use of the CML facility and has set out to raise $200,000 to construct an adaptive-use playground adjacent to the baseball field.
Patty has served as president of Pattison’s Academy and on the board of directors of PlayToday! Foundation, helps run Camp Hand to Hands for kids with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, organizes the free weekly MUSC CARES Clinic, and travels on mission trips to Uganda with Palmetto Medical Initiative.