Unified Champion School: Grafton High

By Aubrey Pilotte
aubreyUnified Champion Schools logo red blackI was introduced to Unified Champion Schools the moment I entered Grafton High School. I am a senior now at Grafton and I have seen the full effects of Unified Champion Schools in my school community.

Grafton High School implemented all three components of the program – unified sports, youth leadership, and whole school engagement. Through my experience, I have participated in Unified Bocce, Unified Basketball, and Unified Track and Field. Grafton High School also offers Unified Flag Football. Freshman year I had played sports other than unified and my transition the following year to all unified sport truly changed myself and the people around me. I witnessed first-hand how accepting, motivational, and passionate Unified Sports were. I saw our teams and our fans grow in size. Unified Sports is much more than just another sport or after school activity at Grafton.

As for youth leadership at Grafton, opportunities are just as plentiful. My school offers Best Buddies where attendance has now reached over 200 students (40% of the student body)! We also have MASC Student Council that not only coordinates with SOMA, but has Special Olympics Chair on the Executive Board. I held this chair position this past year. My leadership involvement here included coordinating the teams for the Unified Sports, and organizing awareness and community events for Special Olympics. Grafton High School is also represented on the State Youth Activation Council, otherwise known as the YAC. High School students from all over the state are selected via an application process, and meet once a month. These students cultivate and implement ideas to activate youth at other schools to share with students and other leadership in the schools.

The final component, whole school engagement, is, in my mind, the most impactful aspect of the program at my school. For example, we participate in the MASC Polar Plunge every year. At the regional SOMA events as well as our own unified events, the fans in the stands attendance from Grafton is enormous. Posters are made and the cheers are so rewarding for all the athletes. Annually, Grafton holds an R-Word Assembly. The entire student and staff body attends this assembly in the gym. Following the assembly, the school cheers from the
stands while the unified basketball team has a mini game in the gymnasium. Seeing students and staff who do not participate in unified sports or youth leadership cheer from the top of their lungs for these athletes brings me pure joy.

This inclusive community would not be made possible without Unified Champion Schools. Unified Champion Schools is more than just three components at Grafton High School.

Throughout my three years I have seen a significant change in my school community. Special Education students have friends from all grades who they meet up with in the halls and out of school to hang out. As a whole, my school has become unbelievably inclusive and the r-word is not thrown around. Every one of all intellectual abilities gets along without the exclusion and judgement I had seen my freshman year. Unified Champion Schools was absolutely the best program Grafton High School could have implemented. It gave my school the necessary tools for inclusion. Unified Champion Schools has changed the special education students daily lives and the entire community of my school.

Doreen Britton: Heart & Passion

By Lindsay Gomes

DoreenAs an active volunteer with over a decade’s experience, Doreen Britton will be joining the Special Olympics Massachusetts Falmouth Road Race team. This year Doreen’s fundraising goal is set at $1,000. She hopes to achieve this goal by reaching out to friends and family. Special Olympics Massachusets’ recently set up an interview with her to learn more about her history with the Falmouth Road Race and Special Olympics.

Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) – Tell me a little about your history with Special Olympics – how did you first get involved? Have you volunteered at any Special Olympics Events?

Doreen Britton (D.B.) – I first began with Special Olympics about 12 years ago working in the Hyannis office with Kevin Turner. He and I organized and ran the first Jolly Jaunt in Hyannis with, I think, 63 runners. Since then I coached bowling and track for 3 years. Over the years, I have volunteered at many events but my favorite is the track and field competition at Barnstable high school.
SOMA – Would you consider yourself to be a runner? What other races have you participated in?

D.B. – I began running as part of a relay team when I attended Barnstable high school. I have done several Triathlons and numerous 5ks over the years. This will be my 3rd time running Falmouth. I have run for local causes. Yes, I consider myself a runner.

SOMA – Do you plan on participating in any other races for the Special Olympics in the future?

D.B. – Absolutely! I run the jolly jaunt every year!

SOMA – Why would you like to continue running and supporting the Special Olympics? What does this organization mean to you?

D.B. – As a special education teacher, the Special Olympics provides opportunities for people with disabilities to be successful in athletic ventures. It is so important for these athletes to experience that feeling and to be part of a team.

SOMA – Do you believe more people should become more involved with the Special Olympics?

D.B. – Yes. People need to see and experience not only the struggles of our athletes but the heart and passion they have to compete. The willingness to try things outside their comfort zone with the support of Special Olympics volunteers shows what these athletes are made of. More people need to understand how they want to compete and be like their non-disabled peers.

Support Doreen Today! 

Nicole Nunes: Running for a Cause

RUNNING-PICWhen asked why she chose to represent Special Olympics Massachusetts in the 2016 Falmouth Road Race, Nicole Nunes simply answered, “It is a foundation near and dear to my heart”.

Nicole first became involved with Special Olympics when she was an undergrad at the University of Rhode Island. She worked with Special Olympics Rhode Island assisting with Swimming and Unified Basketball. While studying, she took adapted physical education courses that introduced her to a range of extra-curricular activities and volunteer opportunities. She also taught at a school nearby where she would bring the kids to a bowling alley.

Today, Nicole is an adapted physical education teacher in the Norton Public Schools system. Nicole was instrumental in starting the adapted physical education program in Norton. For the past 8 years, she has taken students to the Attleboro School Day Games and recently had two students participate at Special Olympics Massachusetts Summer Games in Track and Field.

“The kids who are athletes definitely wholeheartedly appreciate the effort put into it (Special Olympics) and have a blast”, said Nicole as she reflected on her personal experiences.

Nicole claims that she is not a runner but she is physically active. She has also participated in two half marathons. After having her two daughters, ages four and two, Nicole’s running came to a halt making the Falmouth Road Race the perfect opportunity to hop back into running.

This race will also be Nicole’s first time running for a cause and her first time running the Falmouth Road Race. Nicole has a fundraising goal of $1,500. She plans on achieving this goal through donations from family, friends, students, and by writing letters to local businesses.

Nicole would love to look into the possibilities of running for Special Olympics Massachusetts in the future. Helping students and athletes with disabilities is one of her goals and she hopes to volunteer more in the upcoming years.

“I know a lot of kids involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts and I would do anything I can to give back to them.”

Support Nicole Today

Lauren & Matthew Murphy: Running Together

Murphy 2After joining the Special Olympics Massachusetts board of Directors in 2014, Lauren Murphy found herself wanting to become more involved with all that Special Olympics Massachusetts has to offer. Lauren and her husband have a summer home in Falmouth and family in the area so the Falmouth Road Race seemed like the perfect opportunity. This year, Lauren and her husband, Matthew, will be running together in the 2016 Falmouth Road Race for the Special Olympics Massachusetts team.

Lauren first became involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts during her time as an undergrad student at Babson College. During this time, Lauren was matched with Special Olympics Massachusetts for an MBA program that involved her shadowing the board while acting as an intern.

As someone who taught swimming to children with a wide range of abilities for ten years, it seemed to be a perfect fit. After her experience working with the board, she not only wanted to become a part of it, but also wanted to interact more with the athletes themselves.

In 2013, Lauren joined the unified sailing team where she got to know the athletes on a more personal level. Matthew also participated as a volunteer.

“The opportunities to interact with the athletes and their families are so amazing. I try to do anything I can to support the athletes and their families. It’s what I’m there for”, said Matthew.

This will be the first time Lauren and Matthew will be running for a cause together, but not their first time running the Falmouth Road Race. Lauren has participated in the race ever since high school and Matthew has run it twice.

Murphy

“I have run the Falmouth Road Race for years as my family has a home in Falmouth. We go each year – some of us running and some of us cheering!” said Lauren.
Matthew was always an athlete and played sports throughout high school, but it wasn’t until after college when he took on running as a hobby. He has run the Boston marathon twice. In 2012, he ran for Mass General Kids Fighting Cancer and in 2014 for Survivors which supported all those who were injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing. He specifically ran to raise money for Roseann Sdoia who lost her leg in the bombing.

This past year Lauren and Matthew welcomed their first child which has given them a lot to focus on outside of Special Olympics Massachusetts. They decided that the Falmouth Road Race is the perfect opportunity for the couple to re-connect and give back to an organization that has impacted both of their lives.

“It’s a privilege to be involved with the athletes. They are remarkable and phenomenal people”, said Lauren as she reflects on her past experiences with her unified sailing team.
This year Lauren is running to educate her network. She hopes to make them more aware that Special Olympics is not a onetime event and to gain more awareness of its mission.
Matthew has dedicated his time to not only support his wife, but to get to know the athletes better.

This year Lauren and Matthew have a combined fundraising goal of $3,000. They hope to achieve this goal by utilizing social media and by writing personal letters to family and friends.
The couple is very excited to be a part of the Special Olympics Falmouth Road Race Team.

Make sure to keep an eye out for both Lauren and Matthew as they enter their first race for the Special Olympics together. Good Luck Lauren and Matthew!

 

Support Lauren and Matthew Today

MLS All-Star Week Day 4: Service Day & All-Star Game

After three days of playing soccer, watching professional soccer games, and meeting professional soccer players, the Special Olympics Massachusetts crew teamed up with the rest of the Special Olympics crew as well as MLS Works to give back to the community.

The crew was assigned to a local school’s playground that needed to be painted. They spent hours painting the cement basketball, four-square, volleyball, and tether-ball courts at the school. It was an awesome way to give back to San Jose after such an amazing week!

Photo taken by Jeff Cook

Photo taken by Jeff Cook

Photo taken by Andrew Ingram

Photo taken by Andrew Ingram

 

 

 

 

 

 

James also got the opportunity to interview San Jose Earthquakes player Andrew Tarbell. A fellow goalie, James got to ask Tarbell for tips and about why he loves soccer.

 

Next, the entire crew went back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool and then speedily getting ready for the All Star game! It was a great way to finish such an incredible week. The Special Olympics athletes and partners got the chance to go down on the Avaya Stadium field one more time during the game’s halftime. They were congratulated on their playing skills a slideshow of the week was shown on the big screen. Unfortunately, MLS was not able to secure the win, but that did not spoil anyone’s time at the game.

Lastly, as a way to wrap up the special week, the Special Olympics Massachusetts crew joined the rest of the team to have a final pow-wow about their favorite moments throughout the week. Pins, pens, and stickers were exchanged from all of the Special Olympics branches represented on each of the Unified All-Star teams.

It was a wonderful week and opportunity for Special Olympics athletes to showcase their skills!

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MLS All-Star Week Day 3: Adventuring & Chipotle Game

MLS All-Star Week day number three began with an entire morning free, and the Special Olympics Massachusetts crew decided to use that time to explore. They decided to ditch any maps and just go for a walk, not knowing what they’d find. This adventure led to stumbling upon the San Jose University Campus, which was beautiful and made for a beautiful early morning stroll. Next, the crew walked to a nearby park, which had held the “Men in Blazers’ show the previous night. There were some MLS signs and advertisements as well as a giant soccer ball still inhabiting the park, so James and Julia decided to take a break and have a quick photo op. IMG_6516

 

After this photo was taken James, now also known as “Dab Goalie”, made time in his busy schedule to be interviewed yet again. (follow us on Twitter to see some of his interviews! @SpOlympicsMA) He talked about how it felt to win the East vs. West Unified Match, what he was looking forward to the rest of the week, and his experience thus far in San Jose! “It was a dream come true. It was really awesome playing for the Eastern conference.”

Post-interview all three Keith kids jumped in the hotel pool before getting ready for the afternoon event: a clinic hosted by San Jose’s home team, the Earthquakes. The entire Special Olympics group of athletes, partners, and coaches arrived at a local school and got to work. They stretched out and worked on some core strength, before beginning their stations.

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Last on the schedule for day #3: the Chipotle Game at Avaya Stadium. The entire group of Unified players, coaches, and crew scored a sweet suite to watch the game from, complete with delicious food. It was an intense match between MLS Homegrown and Mexico U-20. After a good fight, the MLS Homegrown team was defeated 0-2.MLS Nikon - 83 MLS Nikon - 74 MLS Nikon - 79 MLS Nikon - 81

 

MLS All-Star Week Day 2: Match Day

Tuesday kicked off with a quick breakfast where James checked in with a recap of his first day with his new team.

After the most important meal of the day, James and Julia took the the training field for the final time before the evening’s Match against the Western Conference. Just before taking the pitch, the twins got their head shots and Team Special Olympics Massachusetts photos taken.

 

The Keiths joined all of the Special Olympics Unified teammates for a group lunch and relaxed before heading out to Avaya Stadium for the MLS Works Special Olympics Unified All-Star Match presented by ESPN.

 

At the stadium, the Unified team was greeted by fans looking for autographs and cheering on the athletes. ESPN commentator and former New England Revolution star, Taylor Twellman gave a pep talk and let the East know he was cheering for them! Coach Anthony from Special Olympics D.C. also addressed the team and then they took the field to cheers!

 

 

 

 

The game was live-streamed on the Special Olympics Massachusetts Facebook Page and the video will remain available. The action was back and forth, but the Eastern conference managed to score twice in the first half! Julia held strong as a defender for the East who kept the West out of the goal through the first 30 minute period. Both players were interviewed at the half (video below).

In the second half, James was inserted as the goalkeeper with the pressure of holding the lead squarely on his shoulders. The West stepped up their attack but James was ready for the challenge; making six saves and keeping a clean sheet, giving the East the victory!

After the game, fans made their way down to the field to cheer on the athletes as they received their medals. Once the ceremonies wrapped up, the athletes and partners signed autographs. One of the signatures most in-demand was James Keith – the “Dab Goalie”, a name given to him by the fans who cheered him on throughout the second half because of his celebratory dance move.

 

The evening wrapped up with a team dinner at Johnny Rockets with Milk Shake Cheers all around! After getting their fill of food, the twins headed over to catch the end of the “Men in Blazers” show and ran into Brian Bilello – the President of the New England Revolution. Brian was nice enough to stop and have a good chat with the Special Olympics Massachusetts crew before snapping this great pic:

New England Revolution President, Brian Bilello with James & Julia.

New England Revolution President, Brian Bilello with Julia & James.