Unified Basketball, Dunking, Community

We are lucky at Special Olympics Massachusetts. So many great people. So many great communities.

Our Greater Lawrence Basketball League in one such example. This league has all the key ingredients of an inclusive and amazing Special Olympics Community: Great athletes, incredible volunteer coaches, an engaged school-based host group (Brooks School in North Andover) and of course… the only unified slam-dunk contest in the world!

Brooks School student-athlete Ethan Gabert-Doyon made this video highlighting all the action!

 

Special Olympics: Full Circle

Kate with her son and daughter.

Kate with her son and daughter.

Kate Dyer has been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) since 1997, first as a coach and Unified Partner, and now as a parent to both a Unified Partner and an athlete. This July, Kate Dyer will add a new title to her lengthy SOMA resume, Fundraiser, as she goes Over the Edge in support of the organization to which she is so deeply connected. SOMA sat down with Kate to discuss her history with the sports organization, her decision to fundraise, and the value in raising her children within the organization.

SOMA: Tell me a little about your history with Special Olympics – how did you first get involved?

Kate: When I originally volunteered to coach Special Olympics, I was a senior in college, majoring in Elementary Education, and volunteering at a clinic for children with special needs. I had a passion for working with people and really enjoyed playing sports. I was assigned to be an assistant coach for a Special Olympics adult basketball team in New Bedford.

SOMA: What was it like coaching the athletes?

Kate: I left the first practice with sore cheeks from smiling so much, and with a determination to be the best coach I could be. It was then that I knew I would get as much out of volunteering as the athletes would get from me. The athletes gain independence, a sense of accomplishment, friendship with peers, and confidence in themselves. As a Coach for volleyball, soccer and basketball, I gain an appreciation for each of my athletes’ struggles, patience, and skill at organizing a team of many differing abilities. As a Unified Partner for soccer, softball, and volleyball, I developed more physical fitness, experienced joy in watching the athletes succeed, and gained an understanding for the importance of community.

SOMA: That’s when you met your husband.

Kate: Within a few years of coaching, I fell in love with Jon, the gentleman Special Olympics originally paired me to coach with.

SOMA: And your children, they’re involved with Special Olympics as well?

Kate: Our two children have attended Special Olympics events since they were infants. Observing and participating in practice, they have gained an early understanding of people with different abilities, and have had opportunities to develop tolerance, acceptance, and friendship with families of athletes.

SOMA: Over the years, your connection to Special Olympics has evolved.

Kate: I am no longer just a coach, I am also a parent of an athlete: our son, Jordan. From this, I have gained friendships with other families of children with similar struggles, and found an organization that fits Jordan’s needs. The joy I experience watching him score a goal or basket, seeing him celebrate with his team…

SOMA: Your 12-year-old daughter, Jordan’s sister Sariah, is a Unified Partner. What is that like for her, growing up so close to the organization?

Kate: As a Unified Partner and volunteer, Sariah gains a better understanding of her brother. She helps Jordan feel successful at sports, and develops compassion for the people around her. She gains leadership skills while helping train the athlete and guide them through drills. My journey with Special Olympics has really come full circle. We’re a community, we all gain from each other.

SOMA: Coach, volunteer, Unified Partner, parent of an athlete. You and your family have held many titles over the years, and you’re adding one more to that list this summer: Fundraiser. Tell me about your decision to go Over the Edge.

Kate: I heard about Over the Edge at a Special Olympics coach’s meeting a couple years ago. I did not immediately participate because I struggle with asking people to donate money. This year I decided to give it a try because Special Olympics means so much to my family and the many families I know. I also enjoy sports, and thought rappelling down a 22-story building sounded like an incredibly memorable experience.

SOMA: Sariah is also going Over the Edge this year.

Kate: When Sariah learned about the event, she immediately wanted to participate. She loves Special Olympics: interacting with the athletes, sharing memorable times with the other volunteers, and being involved in such an important program. My husband and I were hesitant at first – Sariah is only 12 – but ultimately, I think it will be a strong bonding moment for mother and daughter.

SOMA: Both you and Sariah reached the fundraising minimum to participate ($1,000) within a few weeks of registering for the event. For first time fundraisers, that is certainly impressive. Tell me about your fundraising strategy.

Kate: I have posted it on my Facebook page, sent out emails, participated in a story in the local newspaper, and shared a typed version of the story with my friends and family. We are planning a yard sale where all the proceeds will go to our Over the Edge fund. Sariah babysits, and is planning on donating half of the money she raises babysitting to her Over the Edge fund.

If you would like to donate to Kate and Sariah Dyer, you can do so here:

Kate’s Over the Edge page: http://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1155121&lis=1&kntae1155121=D9E2064EF98C43329F037F6337109C75&supId=434512290

Sariah’s Over the Edge page: http://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1155121&lis=1&kntae1155121=D9E2064EF98C43329F037F6337109C75&supId=434728181

If you would like to register for Over the Edge, please do so here: www.OverTheEdgeBoston.com

Fenway Park Batting Practice Contest Winners

Athlete Winner: Danny Williamson

My name is Danny Williamson and to me one of the best things about my experience with Special Olympics is the friendships I’ve made and the respect I’ve gotten since I joined. I’ve made friends with athletes and coaches all around the country.

Through Special Olympics I’ve earned the respect and support of my community, family, friends and fellow athletes through my efforts as a teammate and competitor in many sports. Although I stutter, I have gained enough confidence in myself to recite the Athlete’s Oath in front of thousands at Opening Ceremonies in Harvard. I’ve even been able to sing the National Anthem at other Opening Ceremonies.

Special Olympics has given me leadership skills that I use every day as a person, sports manager and coach. I have always been involved in sports, mostly as a coach or manager not an athlete. Special Olympics has let me show what I am capable of as an athlete.

I have competed (and won) at some of the best colleges in the world. State games at Harvard and Nationals at Princeton where I earned gold medals. I got to play football at Gillette Stadium and basketball at TDBank Garden during halftime of a Celtics game. I am hoping to reach my dream of going to Fenway, not as a fan but as an athlete. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Volunteer Winner: Victor Liu

When I moved to Massachusetts in third grade, I could not speak English and had a difficult time in school, especially socially. Because of my language barrier, I was excluded from the conversations and activities in which most of my peers engaged. But from the outset, I felt welcome because of my classmate Allen, the most incredible person I have had the privilege of knowing and the honor of calling my friend. Allen was an intellectually disabled Special Olympics athlete, and the enthusiasm and optimism with which he lived were remarkable and inspirational.

When I felt down after performing poorly on my first test in the U.S., Allen encouraged me not to dwell on it. When I missed out on a spot on my school’s basketball team, Allen urged me not to give up. And when I experienced issues at home, Allen was there with me and for me. Allen was the best friend I could have asked for, and since his passing three years ago, I have been actively involved in Special Olympics Massachusetts in memory of him. I volunteer at SOMA’s competitions and fundraisers, and as a member of the Youth Activation Council, I strive to increase awareness in schools across our state. At my high school, I have organized R-Word Campaigns to make clear the meaning of the R-word and formed a club dedicated to implementing Project Unify in the local community.

Over the years, SOMA has afforded me the opportunity to interact with students and athletes like Allen, to unify my friends with and without mental disabilities, and, most importantly, to help others—as Allen helped me—feel included and accepted. I am grateful for SOMA for allowing me to carry on Allen’s lifework.

 

Coming to Marlborough: August Tournament!

Today was a big day at the “Yawk”! We are excited to announce that beginning with 2016, the August sports tournament will be held in and around Marlborough, MA. Along with Mayor Arthur Vigeant, and the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, Special Olympics Athlete Gregg Gallant, VP of Sports Matt Ruxton and CEO Mary Beth McMahon announced the news at a press event this morning at the Special Olympics Massachusetts State Offices – the Yawkey Sports Training Center.

The inaugural event will be held on August 27-28, 2016 and will serve at the culminating tournament for the summer sports season.

Event partners include Avidia Bank and sports venues ForeKicks in Marlborough and the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough. Special Olympics is excited to partner with additional local businesses including hotels and restaurants to provide the necessary services for over 1000 athletes and their families from across Massachusetts.

In case you were not able to make it out to the event, here are the speeches:

Special Olympics Athlete: Gregg Gallant:

Mayor of Marlborough, MA: Arthur Vigeant

Special Olympics Massachusetts President & CEO: Mary Beth McMahon

Special Olympics Massachusetts VP of Sports: Matt Ruxton

Volunteer Spotlight: Tracey Sheak

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By Theresa Gaffney

If you ask Tracey Sheak how she got involved with Over the Edge for Special Olympics, she’ll laugh, and tell you how she was quite literally “roped” into it.

Working at a law firm in Connecticut, Sheak travels often for work.  For two years in a row, she participated in the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts Golf Tournament, sponsoring a group of firefighters.  It was here that she met Boston Firefighters John Sarro and Bob Petti.  When they brought up an annual fundraiser they did for Special Olympics Massachusetts, Sheak was immediately interested.  She had always thought fondly of Special Olympics; her two sons, now grown, were actively involved with the organization as kids, volunteering as coaches and “huggers” for various sporting events.

She told Sarro and Petti that she’d love to help them out with a fundraiser.  “I thought I was agreeing to be a hugger,” Sheak remembers.

She was soon shocked to find out the details of Over the Edge, an event where participants repel from the roof of a Boston hotel building.  The idea terrified Sheak, and she hoped that Sarro and Petti would forget that she had agreed to participate.  They didn’t.

“I was too macho to back down,” says Sheak.  But she was definitely scared.

Learning about Sheak’s background in adventure, it’s surprising that she was so nervous about Over the Edge.  Sheak has been a certified dive master for over 30 years.  She does shark dives and is comfortable going into the ocean’s darkest depths.  She even has experience rock climbing, but says that starting on the roof at Over the Edge was a lot harder than climbing up to the top and then going back down.

“This was a huge fear for me to overcome,” says Sheak.  “But I kept thinking that it is nothing compared to what so many athletes have to overcome every day.”

Luckily, Sheak found that there was plenty of support from staff and volunteers on the day of the event.  “I have met some of the nicest people ever,” she says.

Perhaps the strongest bond she has formed is with Special Olympics athlete Gregg Gallant.  After Sheak’s first time going Over the Edge in 2014, she got an email from Gregg that thanked her for the support.  Over the next year, they kept in touch via email, and finally met for the first time at this year’s OTE.  Gallant came to support Sheak and watch her repel.  Later, Sheak would go to one of his softball games.  The pair have become great friends.

Overall, Sheak describes Over the Edge as an “empowering” yet “humbling” experience.  Despite her original fears, now Sheak could not be more enthusiastic about Over the Edge.  After raising $2500 her first year (two and a half times the minimum donation) she came back this year to raise $2000 more for Special Olympics Massachusetts.

She plans on participating again in 2016, and hopes to convince Gallant to do the same.  Sheak’s advice to anyone who is timid about the idea of going Over the Edge?  “Just overcome it.  Just do it.”

Over the Edge is held each year at the Boston Hyatt Regency, and has raised over $840,000 for Special Olympics since it was brought to Boston in 2011.

Celtics CommUNITY Crew Brings Volunteers Together

Celtics crew-01

On Tuesday, July 29th, The Boston Celtics CommUNITY Crew took a trip to the Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, MA to renovate their rec center. In what has become an annual summer event, the Celtics Community Relations Department and volunteers from partner TDBank choose a local non-profit to support. In 2015, the Community Crew chose to support Special Olympics Massachusetts. Celtics Community Relations Coordinator, Kelsey Keena stated “Both TDBank and the Boston Celtics have a strong relationship [with] and support for Special Olympics Massachusetts, and on their behalf we chose to partner with Cardinal Cushing to support both the athletes that are on campus and in the general population by helping to revive their rec center.” The rec center is on the campus of the Cushing Centers and functions as an indoor gathering space for resident and visiting groups alike.

In addition to the Celtics and TDBank, volunteers from VOYA, Special Olympics Massachusetts and the greater community joined in the effort. Tuesday was phase one of the renovation and included removing old furnishings, adding two new coats of paint to the walls and hand painting signs that will be applied to the walls later in the project. Once the paint dries, the carpet will be replaced and brand new high resolution graphics will be applied to the walls. A theme of sports and community will run throughout the room. A media center including a new television, video games and computer stations will be installed. Because of the sensory sensitivity of some of the residents, a sensory corner will be set up to provide time away with toys and games that will support their needs. The focal point of the room will no doubt be the basketball hoop accompanied by a high definition image that mimics the view from the free throw line at TDGarden – you will feel like you are there taking a free throw with all of Boston cheering you on!

Special Olympics Massachusetts has enjoyed a long relationship with the Cushing centers and Director of Recreation and Community programs, Tom McElman. In addition to his role with Cushing Centers, Tom manages the local Special Olympics program throughout the year. This renovated space will continue to promote sports as a positive influence on the lives of people with all abilities.

When asked to describe why sports is an important part of community, Ms. Keena drew direct comparisons to the volunteer event: “Just like we did today, with teamwork anything is possible.” Teamwork is central to sports and Special Olympics is proud and grateful to have such strong partners at the Boston Celtics, TDBank, VOYA and the Cushing Centers who agree.

Reflecting on the progress made on Tuesday, Ms. Keena said “It’s amazing how in one day, when people come together, how much can be transformed. This is just phase one of the project. With a little bit of effort and a little bit of help, you can do anything. With this project, I think that message is really going to shine through.”
Please click on the images below to see all of the photos from the Cushing Centers event.

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Law Enforcement Spotlight: Chief Tim Garner

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By: Theresa Gaffney

When Coca-Cola announced its contest to be a Coke Representative at the Special Olympics World Games this year, Cheshire Police Chief Tim Garner knew that he wanted to participate.  The contest required a written essay; winners would be chosen based off of their commitment to community involvement and to Special Olympics, as well as their ability to inspire others in their community to become involved.  And as those who are close to him know, Chief Garner more than exceeds these qualifications.

The Special Olympics World Games will take place from July 25-August 2 in Los Angeles, California.  Garner knows few details about his duty as representative—he does know that one duty will be to act as a “fan in the stands,” supporting the athletes as they compete and participate in other events over the course of the opening weekend.

According to the Coca-Cola website, “fans in the stands” will also volunteer to support venue operations throughout the event.  The Coca-Cola Company has contributed to Special Olympics since the organization was founded in 1968.

Unlike many volunteers who are so passionate about Special Olympics, Garner didn’t personally know any athletes before he began volunteering; “I just love working for the kids,” he says.

“They are our future, and it gives me great pride to be able to do things for them no matter what.”

Garner’s first interactions with Special Olympics were back in the 80s, “when the Winter Games were held in the Berkshires,” he notes.  Garner assisted in the speed skating competitions at Williams College.  He says that he began volunteering because his father was so passionate about it.

“My father was a huge supporter and volunteer of the games,” says Garner “and he inspired me to become involved, along with my wife, as well as other family members.  We continued to volunteer for years, even after his passing.”

However, when the Winter Games stopped being held out west where they lived, Garner and his family were unable to continue participating.  So five years ago, when the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Cops on Top event was launched in Pittsfield, Garner was immediately attracted to it.  He continues to be involved with the event to this day, and volunteers for many of the LETR 5K races.

For Garner, the takeaway from putting so much time into volunteering is simply to watch the athletes compete.  “I am always just so happy to see these athletes give it everything they have, be supportive of others, and always seem to have a smile on their faces.”

Chief Garner has been a member of the Cheshire Police Department since September of 1982, and has been Chief of Police for 18 years.  His passion for Special Olympics has spread to his officers, who are “always ready to step up to the plate” in terms of any fundraising or volunteer efforts that Chief Garner may need.

7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches will represent 177 countries at the World Games this summer.  According to the Games’ website, it will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015.

Garner will leave for Los Angeles on July 24, and is looking forward seeing all of the athletes from around the world.