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!



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.

Give Love Away!!

By Keri Mandell, who’s running the 2015 Boston Marathon for Special Olympics Massachusetts. 

When I started to think about this month’s theme of Love, I reflected on what love means to me and the role love plays in my life.  For me, love is about discovering what we value most in our hearts, minds, and souls and finding ways to share it with the world.  Loving and being loved are what make our lives worth living: it gives us energy to get up each day and keep going.  It gives our lives purpose and meaning. To love and to be loved is a wonderful gift. more

More on Team Special Olympics Massachusetts here

Special Olympics and Bank of America Unite Again

Athletes run in Special Olympics MA School event.

Athletes run in Special Olympics MA School event.

As you may have seen on Good Morning America, Special Olympics and Bank of America are partnering to launch the first ever Unified Relay Across America. This is the latest initiative in a long-standing partnership between both organizations that has impact nationally and locally.

Locally, Bank of America has been a great partner of Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) for many years. In 2015, Bank of America has provided SOMA with a $25,000 grant and will be the Presenting Partner of SOMA’s “School Day Games”.  The largest component of SOMA’s school partnership programs, “School Day Games” are one-day events offering athletic competition for students and school teams. These events involve entire school communities. They are designed to introduce participants to Special Olympics, while also promoting acceptance, inclusion, and opportunity for all students.  Thanks in large part to Bank of America,  SOMA and its school partners will organize over 31 “School Day Games” state-wide in 2015, with over 400 schools and 4,500 athletes participating.

Please stay tuned for more information about this great and dynamic partnership between Bank of America and Special Olympics.

Fully Alive

The following is by Susan Senator, a writer, activist and the mother of a Special Olympics athlete. 

On December 9th I attended Tim Shriver’s book event at the JFK Library in Boston as a guest of Special Olympics Massachusetts. The book Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most, is a combination memoir, biography, and philosophical piece by Special Olympics Chairman Tim, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics. WBUR’s Deborah Becker joined Tim and facilitated the conversation with a masterful subtlety.


Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver with WBUR’s Deborah Becker at the JFK Library.

As expected, Tim talked about the disability movement, and how it originated largely due to his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, who was the first president to invite an intellectually disabled person to the White House, who helped launch several initiatives to research intellectual disability and began the movement to close institutions. Tim also discussed the influences in his life: his mom and his Aunt Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The delightful surprise was hearing Tim talk about his own exploration of mysticism and how it all led back to the disability movement. “You have to come to an interior place,” he said, “And in that space, you will become who you are.” That’s his mind-bending way of saying that once you can relax enough into just being yourself, you will finally know what’s important in life. He illustrated this philosophy but asking us, the audience, to imagine a United States where everyone is employed. Everyone, even the intellectually disabled. “Can you imagine that?” he asked, smiling. We didn’t realize at first that he was actually asking us to imagine it. So we did. “Now that you have imagined it, you should try to figure out how to make it so. But first you have to be invited to imagine it.” That imagining is not something most of us are asked to do.

But Special Olympic Athletes are asked to imagine succeeding — perhaps for the first time in their lives. Everywhere else they are “accommodated.” Educated –by mandate, and if you think about it, that implies that you have to do it. Because the law requires it. But in Special Olympics, the Athlete can imagine himself winning, all out, sweaty and panting. The first three words of the Special Olympics oath itself epitomizes this: “Let me win.” (Hey, by the way, do “Real” Olympic Athletes have an oath? Hmmm.)

It is a challenge speaking and writing about Special Olympics and the disability rights movement because everyone already thinks they know what you’re going to say: “Awww, it’s just so doggone special.” This is the basic reaction when you mention Special Olympics. Yes, dammit, of course, but that’s so beside the point. What makes Special O truly special, is that it is one place in life where the “fun is important, and the important is fun,” as Tim put it. “We have a backwards view of Special Olympics,” he said. “We’re trying to prove that our athletes are just like everyone else, that they’re going to fit in.” But the great secret of Special Olympics is that when you come over to their world, the world of the athletes, you get a chance to be just exactly who you are. Everyone involved with Special Olympics gets the chance to be, no matter where they start. You come to an event and you see people you are not used to looking at. Down syndrome, everywhere. People with autism flapping, people dragging walkers. All ages, all shapes. You’re in the minority. You with your big shot Able body. You are not the star there. If you’re a volunteer, a coach, or even the President of Special Olympics, at the games you are wearing a team tee shirt, not a coat and tie. So you relax. If you’re a parent like me, you are not judged. Or pitied. Better yet, your kid is not judged — except by the refs, the timekeepers. This is a sports competition, after all, so some people get the fastest or highest score. Only some get the gold medal. They all want it, but they don’t all get that gold and that in itself is spectacular. There are standards, but somehow, there is also equality.

How is that possible? Sportsmanship. And there is no good sport like a Special Olympian. If I may make a sweeping generalization: they know how it feels to be humbled. Tim, who has met world leaders and shmoozed the best of the best minds, described how Nelson Mandela was a Special Olympics fan, showing up when he wasn’t even expected. And so Tim asked Mandela to “teach” him” some of his incredible life’s lessons.

“I learned what every prisoner knows,” Mandela said. “Humility and simplicity. But you don’t need me to teach you,” he said. “You have the athletes.”

Susan Senator

Another win for Wheaton’s Women’s Basketball

NORTON, Mass. – The Wheaton College women’s basketball team and the Mansfield 7th graders pledge to “End the R Word” story has won the NCAA Division III Special Olympics Spotlight Poll for the month of November after receiving 2,368 votes. More


A Beacon of Hope

The following is a speech given by Special Olympics Massachusetts athlete and Global Messenger Lauren Hopper to Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. 

“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. This phrase has been resonating through my mind; lending me the strength and the courage to come speak with you all today. In ancient Rome these words were spoken by gladiators to prepare themselves for the arena. In Special Olympics, these words are spoken by the athletes, as the athlete’s oath, to prepare themselves for competition. Hello Everyone. My name is Lauren Hopper. I have been an athlete in the Special Olympics for 13 years. Special Olympics is a worldwide program that serves individuals with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and up. Special Olympics Massachusetts offers training and competition in 27 sports year round. This gives athletes a variety of activities to choose from and an opportunity to stay physically active at all times. Special Olympics has something for every ability level and each year athletes get better in their sport. Longer races, faster times, improved technique, a smoother back hand or jump shot. This instills confidence and allows the athletes to come out of their comfort zone and try new things. However, anyone can become involved even if they don’t have a disability. Unified partners, coaches, officials, volunteers and opportunities to participate in fundraising events, like over the edge, polar plunge and 5K races. This shows that Special Olympics is all inclusive and values giving equal respect to everyone.

Special Olympics athletes, left to right, Gregg Gallant, Lauren Hopper and Matt Millett.

Special Olympics athletes, left to right, Gregg Gallant, Lauren Hopper and Matt Millett.

The ocean spray diversity vision is to, “Create an inclusive culture in which individual perspectives are valued and differences leveraged for greater opportunities”. Special Olympics was founded with that same vision and through dedication and resourcefulness that vision has been made a reality. The Ocean Spray company website states, “We at Ocean Spray continue to pride ourselves on the tradition of innovation and resourcefulness.” Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver during a time where people with intellectual disabilities were not widely accepted by their community. Since then Special Olympics has introduced and implemented a number of innovative concepts. These include unified sports, where athletes with intellectual disabilities play on the same team alongside athletes without disabilities and the R-Word campaign. Ocean Spray was started by 3 cranberry growers who shared a love of cranberries and wanted to create unique products that others could enjoy. Special Olympics was started as a day camp by a family who shared the love they had for their disabled sister and wanted others to be able experience that unique love. With these humble beginnings Ocean Spray and Special Olympics have both grown and paved the way for new ideas. Just imagine what they could accomplish working together. I am humbled by how much the employees here at Ocean Spray have already taken part in this incredible organization. Thank you all so much. From the bottom of my heart I truly appreciate everything you have done for us athletes.

As Special Olympics is a non-profit organization, it relies heavily on its volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. The generous volunteers and donors are the backbone of this organization, for without them, Special Olympics would not be able to offer all the incredible things they do for their athletes. Being a volunteer isn’t just about donating time, money or equipment, it’s so much more. It will bring a smile to your face long after the event is over.

When my parents chose to sign me up for Special Olympics, I was 10 years old. At that point I was just beginning to have struggles in mainstream life. Special Olympics gave me a safe haven; somewhere I could be myself without fear ridicule. Because of how I looked and how I acted, I rarely found that elsewhere. I acquired a sense of belonging that I had never felt anywhere else. I found people who could look past my exterior and see the real me. Because of my disability I was told that I would never become a functioning member of society. Special Olympics gave me hope. The practices showed me how to follow through with my commitments. The competitions taught me to believe in and prove to myself that I can succeed. Losing a race taught me how to deal with disappointment but to be content with the loss knowing I had given it my very best. Having the option to compete in multiple sports year-round has allowed me to become comfortable in trying new things. I have developed confidence and independence by staying overnight with my team during state tournaments. Helping the younger athletes has given me leadership skills. Inadvertently, Special Olympics has prepared me for life. And, throughout my life, Special Olympics has been a beacon of hope. At times, I have felt like a ship stuck in a storm at sea. All the cargo piled up inside, weighing me down. The angry waves crashing over me. The dark night and storm clouds closing in on all sides. And just when I am on the verge of sinking, a light shines in the distance. As that light grows brighter I stop trying to fight my way through the dark stormy sea and instead allow the light to help and guide me to where I want to be. For if I am a ship lost in a storm at sea then Special Olympics is my lighthouse. When my parents signed me up for Special Olympics they were thinking that it would allow me to continue playing sports; something that I love to do. What they didn’t realize, was that in doing so they were ensuring my future. Special Olympics not only saved my life but it presented me with the ability to live that life fully and to my potential.

Every Special Olympics athlete is unique and each of us gets something different out of being part of this organization. For example. There is a boy on my swim team who when he first joined Special Olympics was in foster care. Because of trauma in his past he was terrified of water. His foster family had a pool and the mother wanted him to be able to swim in case he fell in by accident. She signed him up for Special Olympics because he refused to take swim lessons. The first few practices he would not even go near the water but he still kept coming back every week. The next practice he sat on the pools edge with a life jacket. The practice after that he stood in the shallow end with a coach holding on to him. Every practice there was progression. And when it came time for competition he was able to swim the whole length of the pool by himself. Special Olympics helped him to triumph over his severe trauma.

When I was in middle school, one of my teammates faced constant bullying at school making him miserable. One day I witnessed the bullying and being brave in the attempt, I stood up for him. A few weeks later his mom called mine in tears, saying how much happier he was and that he was starting to make friends. This boy was accepted into Harvard University and is currently attending Clark University for his masters in education. Special Olympics gave him courage, which helped him to rediscover his love of school.

Another one of my teammates is nonverbal and confined to a wheelchair. Despite that her mind is very bright. When she first joined Special Olympics she had a hard time letting her personality shine through. Now, even though she cannot speak and has very little control over her movement she can have an entire conversation just using her personality. For example at a recent unified event she was joking on one of our coaches. Her personality was so contagious that the entire room got in on the conversation, got in on the joke, which of course ended in laughs from everyone. Special Olympics helped her to find a way to express herself.

One of my teammates has a son who was born with a rare genetic disorder. As a young mom with a disability herself she was overwhelmed with the hospitalizations, surgery, diet and supervision her son constantly needed. 2/12 years later she now feels confident in her abilities as a mom. The other athlete’s parents were a wealth of knowledge for her and she even found a new friend; an athlete from a different team who has the same disorder as her son. Special Olympics helped her to become more confident in her ability as a mother and more hopeful for her sons future.

As these examples show you, Special Olympics offers so much more than simply sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities. A 2008 Cone Cooperate Citizenship study found that 85% of Americans have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause that they care about. Special Olympics has well over 500,000 athletes in North America alone and each of those athletes has family and friends who have seen firsthand the positive impact Special Olympics has had. Special Olympics is a cause that people care about. The joy that Special Olympics bestows upon those involved is contagious. I chose Special Olympics many years ago and I am standing before you today to tell you That Special Olympics Massachusetts is the right choice. Choose to improve the future. Choose to instill joy. Choose Special Olympics Massachusetts.

Thank you.