FAIRFIELD, OH (June 14, 2023)—“What if we had rally towels for everyone who came to a game?”
“What if we had our volunteers offering free hugs as a welcome out in the parking lot while players and families arrive?”
“What if we had a rubber chicken launch using home plate as a target with the winner getting a gift card for a chicken sandwich?”
“What if?” has been the recurring mantra of a dedicated crew of volunteers who have been dreaming and taking “big swings” to pump out more magic and memories at The Joy Factory this past year.
Throughout the 2023 season, the recently-formed GameDay Experience Team has introduced a number of dynamic new ideas to create more energy and excitement for athletes, families, and volunteers at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields.
“From the moment we first opened, we’ve worked hard to create a big-league atmosphere for our all-stars,” says Kim Nuxhall, President and Board Chairman of The Nuxhall Foundation. “Our GameDay Experience Team is taking that goal to the next-level, and they’re making an already wonderful place even more special.”
The team, led by Nuxhall Foundation Board Member Chad Caddell, began meeting in 2022 with a desire to experiment, brainstorm, and to incorporate new ideas into game days at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields. Members of the GameDay Experience Team are: Jennifer Ready, Steve Smith, Jennie Endsley, Carol Crawford, Dustin Dunlavy, Kellen Barr, and Karen Fuchs. Their work has paved a new path forward and showcased tremendous creativity, all in an effort to more fully celebrate athletes with exceptionalities who call the fields home.
No Idea Too Zany
Sitting around a picnic table under the pavilion at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields, the GameDay Experience Team held their first meeting in the Summer of 2022, creating a laundry list of ideas—some big, some small, some wacky, and all fun—to create even more fun and energy for the special needs athletes who call the complex home.
“Our big idea is to provide an uncommon experience for players and families that will cause them to walk away from our fields with an uncommon joy and gratitude,” says Caddell as he reflects on the team’s purpose from that initial meeting. “We do not just host games on the weekend. We create an experience.”
From that meeting, the team walked away with an exhaustive list of ideas—a few of which were piloted during the Fall 2022 Great Miami Valley YMCA Youth League season, including a pre-game tailgate for players and families and an on-field dance party with Local 12’s Bob Herzog. The group also hosted a free ice cream day in partnership with Special Neat Treats, an ice cream truck founded and operated by Joel Wegener and his children Josh and Mary.
Big Swings Lead to Big Magic
Firing on all cylinders by the following season, the GameDay Experience Team dedicated themselves to experimenting with new ideas for the 2023 schedule. Their commitment led to an incredible slate of new additions—and many awesome memories.
To kick off the 2023 season, the Gameday Experience Team hosted a JNMLF bucket hat giveaway at the opening games for the Great Miami Valley YMCA Youth League, and the Therapeutic Recreation for the Disabled (TRD) Adult League.
Another highlight of the season included We Remember Weekend during the Memorial Day holiday, which played host to United States veterans throwing out first pitches and performing the National Anthem, along with a food drive for the Cincinnati VA Medical Center food pantry that brought in an entire truckload of peanut butter, cereal, and macaroni to feed the veteran population.
Additional Gameday Team additions throughout the season included:
BIG Weekends: These “pack the house” days at the ballpark included a Big Mac coupon giveaway for players thanks to McDonald’s on Nilles Road in Fairfield, and handheld fans with images of Joe Nuxhall given to all spectators. In addition, host of 700 WLW’s Sports Talk Lance McAlister visited the fields and served as an on-field buddy.
Moments & Memories Weekend: Athletes and their families were able to have their photo taken in a fun photo booth by Jonathan Klein at JM Entertainment (returns for Adult League game on June 23).
All-Star Autograph Weekends: Family members and fans were given an autograph book to collect signatures from all of our JNMLF all-stars. Players who were unable to physically sign the books were given stickers that could be filled out with the assistance of a buddy or family member.
PHOTO GALLERY: GAMEDAY EXPERIENCE HIGHLIGHTS
(Scroll from left to right to view all photos.)
The Great Miami Valley YMCA Youth League ended with a Luaupalooza, where all-stars enjoyed a free treat from Kona Ice after the game. Fans and players, adorned with Hawaiian shirts and leis, were also given Joy Factory beach balls while tunes from the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett grooved through the stadium speakers. Adult league athletes will also have a Luauplaooza of their own when their season concludes on August 4.
“I’m confident that our GameDay Team is leading the way for Miracle Leagues across the country by pushing the boundaries of our collective imagination,” says Tyler Bradshaw, Executive Director of The Nuxhall Foundation. “Because of their creativity, we are rethinking what this entire experience can be. They are taking an already miraculous happening and injecting it with more fun than any of us could have ever imagined. Watching them dream and then make those dreams happen is an unbelievable inspiration.”
The roots of the work being done by the GameDay Experience Team trace back to The Nuxhall Foundation’s recent leadership retreat with the Savannah Bananas—the entertaining baseball team that is taking the world by storm and revolutionizing America’s pastime.
“The Savannah Bananas have a way of creating magical experiences for their fans, and after living out a day in their operations, we were confident that we could distill some Banana magic and incorporate it into our offerings,” says Bradshaw.
Board members, including many members of the GameDay Experience Team, traveled to Savannah, Georgia in March of 2023 to spend a day immersing themselves in the vision and culture of the Bananas, meeting with club leaders, social media and marketing experts, and performance and operation gurus. The entire Nuxhall team left that retreat inspired and motivated to continue rethinking the power of sport and community for athletes with exceptionalities.
“Like the Bananas, our mission has been inspired by Walt Disney and the guest experience created within his revolutionary theme parks,” says Bradshaw. “We always talk about wanting the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields to be ‘Disney-like,’ which definitely inspires our meticulous attention to the physical facilities; but it’s much more than that. It’s about creating an experience and magical moments for our athletes and families that gives them unparalleled joy and hope.”
The experience with the Savannah Bananas was about more than just collecting and mimicking fun ideas; it was a window into the world of creating an organizational culture with fun, excitement, and innovation at the forefront. At every level of the organization, team members with the Savannah Bananas reflected the organization’s priority of putting fans first. Creating a culture based in love for the all-stars at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields is a primary focus of the GameDay Experience Team.
“There are two kinds of people in this world: those who walk in and say ‘Here I am!’ and those who walk into a room and say ‘There you are,’” says Caddell. “We are so thankful that we have a family of people who continue to show up, lift up, and with their hands and hearts constantly say ‘There you are.’ We will continue building our culture based around this principle.”
The Dream Continues
The “what if” mantra will continue to drive the work being done by the GameDay Experience Team as they continue programming for the remainder of the 2023 TRD Adult League season, while gearing up for Fall ball action with the Great Miami Valley YMCA Youth League.
“When we sit down as a team to dream, plan, and execute, we take our mission at The Nuxhall Foundation and add in our Joy Factory high five: we make sure that the individuals we serve feel (1) seen, (2) known, (3) connected, (4) celebrated, and (5) loved,” says Caddell. “As we continue to look at our game day experience, we will continuously ask ourselves these three questions: What’s next? What if? And why not?”
“Why not” join us for a game and see what all the magic is about? TRD Adult League play continues on Friday nights through August 4 with games at 6pm and 7:30pm. The Great Miami Valley YMCA Youth League opens their Fall season on Saturday August 26 (player registration is currently available).
Companies or organizations interested in sponsoring the work of the GameDay Experience Team, including financial support of giveaway items or in-kind contributions, should contact Nuxhall Foundation Executive Director Tyler Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
The Nuxhall Foundation is the legacy foundation for former Major League Baseball pitcher and longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster, Joe Nuxhall. A central project of The Nuxhall Foundation is The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields—an entirely accessible baseball and recreational facility where every player with every challenge gets every chance to play. More than 200 players between ages 4 to 78 participate in programs at the Miracle League Fields.
For more information, visit http://www.nuxhallmiracleleague.org.
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