Thank you, Eunice Shriver
Over the weekend, my entire family had the honor to serve together at the Fall Games for the Unified Flag Football for Minnesota Special Olympics. Sadly, I had never experienced any Special Olympics events other than attending fundraisers. Boy – have I been missing out!
If you don’t know anything about Special Olympics, I really encourage you to visit www.specialolympics.org to learn more. For the speedy answers, the games are designed to encourage inclusion of athletes who have intellectual disabilities in the world of sports. These amazing kids and adults, in my opinion, have other-abilities. Those abilities include loving like no one else, brightening a room, reminding us relationships are more important than material things, and the ability to be comfortable in our own skin. There is nothing “dis” about them or their influence in this world. As a teacher, I have seen individuals soar in the classroom, but this weekend I was able to see them excel in the athletic world.
Faith – family – football
That is our family motto which aptly describes the order of our family’s priorities. It is the third one that landed us in West St. Paul, Minnesota over the weekend to cheer on two great flag football teams. Last year, a beloved “uncle and aunt” heard that the flag football program was expanding and was in need of an extra coach. Uncle Sheldon recommended our boy wonder, and from the first practice, he was hooked.
We weren’t able to attend last year due to exhaustion because the games were hosted the day following the final Reed’s Run. I remember the pride in my son’s face when he returned late that evening telling us of how they pulled together and earned second place. That sense of accomplishment and joy carried over into an essay he wrote detailing an example of leadership of which he was most proud. A lump caught in my throat reading his descriptive words.
As time will do, it marched on. With a blink of an eye, it was time again for the flag football practices to begin. Vaguely in the recesses of my memory, I recalled a message from our regional director that it would be great if we had cheerleaders this year.
Adding a new spring in my step, I helped organize our cheer team whose ages ranged from three to eight. We learned cheers and routines, and decided that no matter what the end product looked like, we would have fun. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader! My rah-rah! spirit came back to the surface as I sewed glitter tutus, ordered t-shirts, sewed/constructed a banner for the team to run through, found a mascot costume and ordered pompoms. With those adorable cuties to cheer them on, any team would be successful!
From the moment we arrived until the final awards ceremony, I was awed by the spirit of these games. Our entourage of athletes, unified partners, coaches, tiny cheerleaders and family members was a merry band of sportsmanship and friendship. I can only imagine this was exactly what Eunice Shriver envisioned when she helped to create the Special Olympics.
From touchdown runs and “flag tackles” by childhood friends to amazing interceptions by new ones, the Pumas did our community proud. To hear adults tell my son that he was one of the classiest coaches in this league brought tears to my eyes. (The unsolicited comment was given because he refused to run up the score on a team they competed against.)
It was a spirit of camaraderie and revelry as the Pumas marched the “lane of champions” to receive their gold medals. They were humble and even had to be coaxed to give a “Number 1” signal for pictures.
Our family left the games with huge smiles on our faces and hearts filled with an awe of all we had witnessed. Special Olympics is the best of the best of athletic events. P-E-R-I-O-D! Everyone is encouraged and supported, and more importantly, around each corner was a potential new friend. We were honored to share in this year’s games. As we drove home, talk centered upon we could do next year.
It was at that moment I remembered something Reed had said the morning after playing in the 7th/8th grade Super Bowl game, the last football game of his life.
“Only 364 more days until I get to do that again!”
We couldn’t have said it any better!