Episode #4 – Katie Pratt – Sports is the Catalyst

Katie Pratt is running the 2014 Boston Marathon with Team Special Olympics Massachusetts. She was injured in the marathon bombings of 2013, and like many who were affected that day, she’s showing the world at this year race what it means to be Boston Strong.

On her fundraising page she writes: “The events of April 15th have forever changed my life. I run this year to show my gratitude for those that rallied around me – family, friends and colleagues – who showed me unbelievable support and love. I run to honor the victims and the first responders at the marathon’s finish line. I run to show my love for this incredible city. I run because I still can.”

Basketball Bond

As the NCAA basketball tournament closes the books on another wild ride, filled with buzzer beaters and bracket busting upsets, blog contributor Amanda Church reflects on one of her favorite stories of March Madness.    

By Amanda Church

For Local (Mack)

Miya Oliver and her brother Devin Oliver.

Miya Oliver is 15 years old and has Down Syndrome. Miya is a Special Olympics athlete from Dayton Ohio. She participates in Basketball, Soccer, and Track and Field. Basketball is her favorite sport. Miya is a very good basketball player, she even knows a few tricks to keep whoever she is playing with off guard at her Special Olympics basketball games.

Miya Oliver is a inspiration not only to people like her, but to her brother Devin, and to the entire Dayton University Basketball team.

The Dayton Flyers made it to the March Madness Tournament this year. Miya is not only their biggest fan, but also their biggest cheerleader. She even yells at the ref when they make the wrong call. Miya Oliver got an opportunity that I think you can only have once in a lifetime. Miya got to attend a March Madness Game with her mom and dad and got to see her brother face off against some tough teams.

Devin and the Dayton Flyers lost to Florida in the last round. Their season is done but Miya is proud of her brother and her favorite basketball team and will keep inspiring people every day.

As a Special Olympics athlete, I also follow the March Madness Tournament, I think Miya is such an inspiration and I think she and Devin have bright futures ahead of them.

Embracing Diversity

Lexie Koziel is a junior at Algonquin Regional High School, in Northborough, Massachusetts, and participates on the Unified track team, consisting of athletes with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. She recently attended the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association annual meeting with Special Olympics Massachusetts’ President and CEO, Mary Beth McMahon. Lexie has learned the true meaning of diversity through participating in Unified sports and describes, below, exactly what it means to her.

Lexie Koziel : Unified Sports Athlete

Lexie Koziel : Unified Sports athlete

“On your mark, get set, boom! The race gun goes off and my six teammates hesitate for a moment and then start moving. While four of them run ahead, one runs into the wrong lane and another walks far behind. This is a typical scene at the one hundred meter dash at a unified track meet. I have been lucky to participate on a unified track team, an athletic opportunity open to peers with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Not only has participating on this team made me more tolerant and inclusive, it has also given me great insight into what diversity means to me. Diversity is the condition of being different.

With diversity comes a choice: reject it or embrace it. By accepting diversity I have become friends with some of the nicest, funniest, and most thoughtful people I will ever meet. Through Best Buddies, the Special Olympics Youth Activation Council, and Unified Track, I have made lifelong friendships and have had the opportunity to be involved with activities that I would not have known about if I had chosen to reject diversity. In this sense diversity means opportunities.

Being a member of the unified track team has allowed me to gain insight into the realm of diversity and given me lasting memories. During the past unified track season I got to know Henry, a quiet boy with intellectual disabilities. We had similar personalities and he needed a little extra help staying on task. As time went on Henry became more engaged.  At the state meet we stayed together. I cheered Henry on while he competed and we watched other teammates race. At the end of the day Henry said my name for the first time and we had a brief conversation. Before this day our conversations had been one sided where I asked questions and he answered them with one word. I look forward to partnering with Henry again this season. Thus, diversity means friendship.

Diversity has also allowed me to grow and become less shy. I am a quiet person in general, but by joining groups that support diversity I have gained confidence and leadership skills. Therefore, diversity means positive change.

As defined by the dictionary, diversity is the condition of being different. When you accept diversity you open yourself to a bundle of valuable experiences: friendship, opportunities, and positive change. I ask each of you, are you going to reject or embrace diversity?”


Doing good, feeling great

“It is the ultimate, feel-good happy pill on the planet for anybody, if you are feeling down, if you are feeling glum, you go to a game,” says coach Katya Farrell of Special Olympics. Hard to argue with that. In fact, it’s a big reason why you hear people say that they get so much more out of Special Olympics than they could ever give back.


Hip Hip Cards!

Molly is a nine-year-old who had a great time volunteering at this past state Winter Games. She gave out hand-made cards of encouragement to athletes, and apparently being both an entrepreneurial and philanthropic young lady, she decided to sell them as sponsorship from people for a dollar a card. We’ll let Molly take it from here, via her handwritten letter to Special Olympics Massachusetts.   

Dear Special Olympics,

I had so much fun helping out on March 8, 2014. I gave out Hip Hip Cards to athletes. Hip Hip cards have words in the card to incourage [sic] them. There is one in the envelope. I made them and sold them to people. I started off with $1 from my church First Parish UU in Kingston MA. I raisted [sic] the total amount of $231.00. I hope this money will help with the organization. Keep up the good work!!

From, Molly

(age 9)

molly3 molly2 molly1











Thank you so much Molly! 

Student Leader

Kara DiGregorio is a Milford High School student, a passionate youth leader and proof that the future is bright for inclusion and acceptance for all. The following is a speech she wrote for her school’s R-Word assembly on March 20th. 

“The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance.” quoted from Brian Tracy.  Hi, my name is Kara DiGregorio, and I am a junior here at Milford High. Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have figured things out at a very young age. I experienced things early on in my life, things that not every kid can experience. In sixth grade, I was asked to help out with our local Special Olympics basketball team. From that moment on I have been blessed to work with such incredible people. From the smiles, to the laughs, to the hard times, I could not thank Jen Walsh and Milford Special Olympics enough for all they’ve done for me. Being in middle school and standing up for something that you believe in was not easy, as you could imagine, but every Monday night when I was at practices with the Special Olympic athletes, I was given strength from each and every single one of them.

Kara DiGregorio

Kara DiGregorio

Special Olympics is a movement towards overall inclusion, beginning with sports. Today, sports are such a huge part of the society, and they create a certain common interest in all athletes.  Having that common passion or interest is a great way to start building friendships. The amount of friendships that I have seen made as a result of basketball or track practices are truly inspiring.

Another great way that I’ve seen friendships made is by the club we have here at Milford, Best Buddies. From starting in 8th grade, to now being the president, I have seen so many friendships come in and out of the club. It has helped transform the vision of students with intellectual disabilities from negative to positive. Confidence in this school has also increased, creating a friendly and judgmental-free zone for the students with an intellectual disability.

The campaign, Spread the Word to End the Word’s main goal is to remove the word “retard” from vocabulary as a whole. There are so many hurtful and discriminating words that need to be ended, including the r-word. Everyone in this room has a certain phrase or adjective that they’d love to see erased from our vocabulary, whether others intend to use it for the literal meaning or not. So why do we use these words? To put down others? To feel superior? Because I am positive that the most confident I would ever be in my life would be the day that overall acceptance existed and these stereotypical words didn’t. The term acceptance is defined as the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a certain group. Well, what if every single one of us didn’t have to worry about being judged, or included into a certain group?

What if we lived in a world where everyone was happy because we were all treated fairly and equally like we should be? Let’s change these ‘what ifs’ into actual actions. Let’s focus less on the word DISABILITY, and more on the words ABILITY, and CAPABILITY because the only disability that I see is a bad attitude and not finding joy in life. I am so confident in this movement, and in our school to begin this journey towards inclusion together, all we need is to pledge to stop using such hurtful words, and to think before we speak. I am so proud to be a part of our generation, beginning the transformation of stereotypes into overall inclusion. So together, let’s promise to make this change within our community because I know that someday we all will be responsible for the huge success that this movement will become.

Thank you!

Episode #3 – Rick Gorman – Sports is the Catalyst

We chat it up with Rick Gorman, Founder and Executive Director of North Andover Youth and Recreation Services. Talking community building, Special Olympics and a little March Madness for good measure!

Rick is also the founder of BST Academy and the New England Storm AAU Basketball program. Rick has dedicated his entire professional life to improving lives of youth in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts.