On the last Sunday in June, Akron Children’s Hospital CEO Bill Considine stood on a pitching mound in Tallmadge and threw out the first pitch of a Little League baseball game.
It wasn’t just any game. Players with physical and developmental disabilities, who play in the Tallmadge Little League Challenger Division, faced off in a special, end-of-the-season double header.
They got the president of Tallmadge Little League, Tom Headrick, and Tallmadge Service Director Michael Rorar to umpire the games, and WNIR’s Mark Richards to announce. Greg e-mailed Considine and asked if he would throw out the first pitch.
The Michalecs’ bond with Akron Children’s Hospital was forged 13 years ago in a time of crisis. Cory and his twin sister, Katie, were born at 26 weeks. Katie was 1 pounds, 12 ounces; Cory was just over 2 pounds. They spent their first months in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“They were in pretty dire condition,” Greg said. “Katie was not breathing. She was on a ventilator. Cory suffered a stroke during birth.”
The hospital became a second home to Greg and Tiffany. To show their appreciation for the care the twins received, the couple pledged to raise $1 million for the hospital over 10 years. They would do it through an annual Akron fundraiser, An Evening of Wine and Wishes.
The fundraiser was a big success. They reached their goal after 8 years.
In 2014, the couple was nominated for the hospital’s Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award.
Inspired by the help of a parent mentor, Tiffany joined the Parent Mentor Program, and she continues to offer advice and emotional support to others.
“When we were in the NICU I needed someone to talk to,” Tiffany said. “I didn’t know anyone who had gone through what we were going through. The mentor program was so helpful.”
Last year, Tiffany stepped up to take the reins of the Tallmadge Little League Challenger Division. Greg is a coach. Cory, who is in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, has been playing Challenger baseball since he was 5.
The league was down to 16 players after some kids aged out at age 18. The couple went to work early this year recruiting in surrounding communities. Tiffany put out the word through the Parent Mentor Program e-mail group and through the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board.
Responses poured in. They ended up with 48 kids – enough to field 4 teams. They reached out to Brian Hollingsworth of the Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the hospital agreed to sponsor all 4 teams.
In Challenger baseball, games are 2 innings and all players bat and play the field every inning.
Fill the Hole featured the presentation of a check to the Challenger Division in memory of Katylynn Patton, a girl who played in the league and who died earlier this year. Katylynn’s friend and classmate, Cerafina Currey, raised the money in Katylynn’s memory. All the players wore a number 2, her uniform number, on their sleeves.
Now that baseball is over, Cory will be getting ready for football season. He’s the ball boy for his school team. Cory and Katie are going into 8th grade at Tallmadge Middle School this fall.
“She is one of the biggest assets Cory has,” Greg said. “When he needs something, she takes care of him. She’s his biggest friend and biggest ally.”
Greg, an executive of Heidelberg Distributing Co. and former member of the Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation Board, will be thinking baseball in the off-season. He and Tiffany want to grow the Tallmadge Challenger Division.
“My goal is to get 2 more teams next year, and to help other communities build a Challenger league if they want to,” Greg said.
“It lets the kids be just like other kids for 2 hours a week. I think it’s therapy for everyone involved. It makes you realize how fortunate we are to have these kids in our lives and how special they are.”