About Courage League Sports

Courage League Sports is a non-profit adaptive sports and recreational facility that offers year-round programming for children and adults who aren’t able to go full speed due to a physical, cognitive or emotional disability. By adapting the pace, equipment, or nature of an activity, Courage League can provide a safe and accessible environment where participants can go at their own speed.

“CLS is the best place to go and to allow your child and their siblings the opportunity to participate and play in a wide variety of organized activities!”

Brenda, Courage League Parent

Courage League Sports was inspired by Jack who at the age of eight suffered multiple strokes that forever changed his life. Frustrated at the lack of options for her son, Melissa Clarke-Wharff opened Courage League Sports where those with special needs could participate and be active outside of a therapy atmosphere. Today, Courage League serves nearly 1,000 children and adults on a monthly basis. 

Our History

Jack is the inspiration behind Courage League Sports. Up until he was eight years old, he was an active little boy who loved to play sports and chase his older brother around. At eight, Jack had to go in for a routine procedure for a non-life threatening condition he was born with, and within days of his procedure he had multiple strokes which left him unable to walk and talk.

Jack spent months in the hospital followed by multiple surgeries and an extensive rehabilitation – he literally had to learn how to talk, walk and use his arms again. While recovery for Jack is still on-going, he has made significant strides and today is able to play and be active at Courage League.

Some are born with disabilities, others have life-altering events – either way, these children and adults need a place to be active and social on a regular basis. Courage League believes everyBODY deserves to play – in a safe environment without fear of judgment – and that is why Melissa Clarke-Wharff (Jack’s mom) opened Courage League Sports.

In Des Moines alone, there are over 52,000 children and adults with special needs; In Iowa, more than 300,000; And in the nation, more than 52 million. The need for safe, fun recreation for those with special needs is greater than Melissa ever imagined. Beginning in 2016, Courage League Sports will begin to expand to locations throughout the State of Iowa and even the Nation.

Meet Us


Born and raised in Des Moines, Melissa graduated from Roosevelt High School and received her bachelor degree from the University of Iowa.  Prior to opening Courage League, she worked in the hospitality industry for 25 years. Melissa lives in West Des Moines with her husband Mike, and their 6 kids, Joe, Matt, Jack, Mari, Nick and Ellie.

Melissa has received honors from sterling organizations, including:
2018 Arthritis Foundation Woman of the Year
2018 Girl Scouts of Iowa, Inspiring Woman of Iowa Finalist
2016 Iowa Social Workers Association: Friends of Children
2016 American Red Cross Hero of the Heartland



Porshia PerkinsPorshia Perkins
Development Coordinator


Kelsey Schroder
Program Assistant





Melissa Clarke-Wharff, President
Founder, CLS Director

Alex Broderick
Hubbell Realty

John Leder, Vice President
Holmes Murphy

Ben Butzke
Ball Team Construction

Eric Beaver, Treasurer

Naval Tandon
Casey’s General Store

Jennifer Ellis, Secretary
Unity Point Health

Stacy Tandon

Erin Barfels
Carlson Group

Kara Thompson
Des Moines University

Conor Boffeli
Bral | Neidert Private Wealth Advisors