DES MOINES, Iowa — Channel 13 is highlighting remarkable women during the month of February, and there’s no doubt Melissa Clarke-Wharff falls into that category. In addition to running a household with six children, she works ten to 12 hours a day leading a nonprofit that keeps kids and adults with special needs active.
Clarke-Wharff is the founder and executive director of Courage League Sports, an adaptive sports league for people who can’t play at full speed.
“Melissa is an inspiration. She is tough. She is courageous and incredibly compassionate,” said Board Member John Leder.
“She’s a motivator and a great leader,” added Board Member Conor Boffeli.
“It’s grown beyond what I ever thought it would be, honestly,” said Clarke-Wharff.
The organization’s mission is everybody deserves to play. “She’s like the best woman ever. Because what kind of lady forms up a whole place for one kid,” said her son Jack Clarke.
She started the adaptive sports league in honor of her son Jack, who had a series of strokes when he was 8 years old.
Courage League Sports opened in Urbandale eight years ago and has grown immensely. “It took us about six months and we only had two or three kids in our gym when we first started, so I was a little nervous. We just really worked at making those partnerships, talking with families, sharing our story and what we wanted to do with our programs,” said Clarke-Wharff.
Last year, the organization served more than 18,000 people. It went through changes, leaving the Urbandale facility and going out into the community. It offers programs in different cities on different nights throughout the metro. The home base is now Franklin Junior High, which is where the nonprofit also offers programs during the day for adults with special needs.
Boffeli said, “When she saw a need like Courage League in the Des Moines community, she acted on it. Since the start of this, she’s been able to help 10s of thousands of families.”
Leder added, “Melissa has been a role model for people with special needs and really has gone above and beyond.”
“It’s just amazing what she’s done,” said Jack.
Courage League Sports is holding a fundraiser for the organization this month. It’s Courage on the Court, which is a wheelchair basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 29. Games start at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. at Franklin Junior High.