The Day that “Changed My Family Forever”

The Kettle Family are great leaders and ambassadors of the Special Olympics Mission. Below Colleen Kettle shares her story (What she doesn’t mention is the great work that her and her son Andrew do in being volunteer leaders of our annual Special Olympics Basketball Tournament at Weston High School)…

In 2004, while I was sitting in the Middle School cafeteria waiting for my two older daughters to finish their play rehearsal, a group of male athletes dressed in basketball uniforms walked by me. I assumed they were there to play our high school team. When a group of younger boy and girl athletes, accompanied by students from Weston High School, walked by, I was curious, so I stopped one of the students and asked him what was going on. He told me Weston High School was hosting the Special Olympics Basketball Qualifiers, something they do every year. I was shocked because I thought Special Olympics (SO) was only for people with Down Syndrome and clearly not all the athletes had that condition. As soon as I got home I visited the SO website and learned that its mission is to provide year round athletic training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities (that includes many conditions such as Down Syndrome). That day changed my family forever because I have a son, Jeffrey, who has intellectual disabilities. At the time he was nine years old; he loved sports but the pace of the games in traditional sports was overwhelming him so we had to drop him down a grade (we had already held him back in kindergarten so that meant he was playing with kids who were two years younger than him). He was friendly and outgoing but none of the other special ed kids at his school were like him. As parents we longed to meet other parents who were going through what we were going through.

 

SOMA athlete Jeff Kettle (in yellow) competing for Boston College Juniors before he went to off to College on Cape Cod.

SOMA athlete Jeff Kettle (in yellow) competing for Boston College Juniors before he went to off to College on Cape Cod.

We immediately signed up for the Special Olympics basketball team at Boston College. The first day Jeffrey and his dad showed up the volunteers made Jeffrey feel like a superstar! While Jeffrey showed off his skills on the basketball court, my husband Frank sat on the sidelines and talked to the other parents. Boy, did he learn a lot! For the first time he could share his concerns and have someone empathize and/or offer a solution. The off the court time was as valuable as the on the court time. Jeffrey was a member of the younger team, the BC Juniors, who practiced at the same time as the senior team, so Frank got to know many of the older players who were quite outgoing. When the qualifiers were held at Milton Academy that year, a location not accessible by public transportation, Frank offered to drive some of the adult athletes. He learned that they lived in a group home near the Green Line and they alternated cooking (depending on the person assigned, some nights were great and all agreed some were awful). It made him smile because he could imagine a future for Jeffrey in a house on the Green Line near BC with fellow residents who loved (or hated) his cooking.

 

Fast forward: Jeffrey is turning twenty-one this month and he is finishing his fourth year at a residential school on the Cape for students with special needs called Riverview School. When he started at the age of 17 ½, his reading level was grade 2.6 (second grade, sixth month) in September but by June his reading level was 5.8 (grade five, eighth month). We were thrilled because it told us that the goals previously set for him were low and that some people need to be taught in a different way. His four years there have been amazing! He has made friends (and girlfriends), some of whom were people he previously competed against in Special Olympics. and he is a three-season athlete at Riverview as well as a coach for the high school teams AND he competes on the Special Olympics Sandwich Sharks swim team. In June Jeffrey will graduate from his work program and he will move into a privately owned staffed group home in Newton Highlands on the Green Line where nine other residents like him (many of whom are from Riverview) live. He will continue to compete in Special Olympics, most likely at BC, and we hope he will meet people like Frank who will drive him to games when public transportation is not an option. I am confident Jeffrey will charm them with his conversational skills because I don’t think he will be able to do so with his cooking!

Colleen Kettle

A mom who is grateful WHS hosted the games in 2004 and is now happily the parent advisor for the WHS Class of 2017, who has the honor of hosting the games for their four years at WHS.

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