By Sarah Keith, originally published in The Governor’s Academy student newspaper The Governor.
What comes to mind when you hear someone say “Special Olympics”? Everyone at The Governor’s Academy in Byfield will think about the annual Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) Soccer Tournament. It is a huge one-day event hosted by Governor’s for which massive amounts of planning go into so that the Special Olympic Athletes will have an amazing day. The campus is flooded with teams from all over the state ready for a day full of competition and fun activities. It is a great day for everyone, but what many people don’t realize is all of the training and planning that goes into creating a Special Olympics team. What exactly is a “Special Olympics” team all about, and what happens before the teams come to Govs?
My brother James has Down syndrome. He does have special needs, but it is his athletics that has led to my family’s immersive involvement in Special Olympics sports and events. It is a gigantic part of our lives. My Dad’s involvement has progressed over the years from father to coach to vice-chairman of the Board of SOMA. My Mom courageously runs the entire North Andover Special Olympics Basketball program single-handedly. My sister and I have participated as Unified partners in many different Special Olympics sports, including soccer, basketball, and track. Being a part of these teams has been the most inspiring experience that a Unified Partner can have. For the past seven years I have played as a Unified partner on the Andover Stars Special Olympics soccer team and it has been life-changing. I have been able to share incredible moments with my team. The Special Olympic Athletes are overjoyed just to score a goal, or even wear the uniform. They show us what the real meaning of happiness is.
This year my sister and I have had the opportunity to take over and co-run the Andover soccer teams program. I don’t think that we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. There are 60+ players in our Andover program alone. We host practice every Sunday afternoon at our local high school.
Each athlete and partner has a form to fill out and have signed. Every one of these forms needs to be sent to SOMA. That is the easiest part of the paperwork. I get about 15 emails a day from parents of the soccer players. We also need to make team rosters based on age and ability. In addition to these requirements, we need to be ready to compete and have fun in the tournaments!
All of these administrative tasks are worth it when I see the Special Olympics Athletes’ excitement each and every week! Their smiles can light up a room! Just to hear one boy or girl laugh makes it all worth it. Often, people believe that just because someone has special needs, that it means that they cannot live a normal life. It is an honor to be able to help prove these ideas false. My brother James shows me every day that he can do anything (and even more) that I can do. His accomplishments motivate me to try harder, and be a better person everyday.
The Governor’s Academy’s State Special Olympic Soccer Tournament is the pinnacle of the fall soccer season for the Special Olympics Athletes of Massachusetts. Every team loves coming to the campus. I remember when I was younger and playing in the tournament I thought it was at a college campus. The respect and kindness that the Govs’ students show make the Special Olympic Athletes truly believe that they have made it to the ‘big-leagues’ of soccer games. They play stronger and harder with this motivational support. So here is a HUGE thank you to everyone involved in running the tournament: Emily Willis and Cassie Clavin, the Gov’s seniors who are the co-leaders of the tournament, Anna Finch, the Faculty Advisor, and all the Heads and Shadows who assist them. And, of course, last but certainly not least: all of the students that cheer the athletes on during their games!
Being such a huge part of Special Olympics means so much to me. It is certainly not a college application fluffer or a job that needs to be done. It is a part of the fabric of my life! Every week I am so excited to be able to greet all of my adorable friends and play soccer with them. It is not a chore; it is a gift.