September was another good month to marvel with pride at the innate ability of our athletes to transform the lives of people who they touch.
For the 78 Special Olympics Maryland athletes, who next year will compete among 3,000 other athletes from across the country at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, the Games will offer a life-changing experience for them as well as everyone with whom they interact. On September 9th, Mercersburg Academy hosted Team Maryland members who will compete in bocce, track and field, swimming, tennis, softball, power lifting, soccer, and basketball. The team was on campus for a day-long training camp designed to introduce the coaches to their athletes, provide for athlete ability assessment, map a ten month training plan, and generally start the team-building process. The athletes arrived in two yellow school buses on campus where they were greeted with poster board signs handcrafted by the 150 students who assembled to give the athletes a hero’s welcome with raucous applause – which set the tone for day of positive, inclusive, interactive growth by all. Mercersburg students gathered the teams and led the athletes to the exceptional sport-specific facilities reserved for their training sessions, which proved the perfect environment to kick-start preparation for the Games.
Lunch offered the most transformative environment of the day. As our athletes gathered in the campus cafeteria to eat after their morning training session, Mercersburg students and faculty joined them. I roamed from sport to sport to see how the morning went, and I was struck by how the Mercersburg students spread out among the tables assimilating with our athletes and engaging in inquisitive conversations. Most of the students with whom I spoke had little or no previous interaction with people with intellectual disabilities. At one table, a fifth year exchange student from Rome, a freshman from North Carolina, and a junior from Virginia sat with members of our softball team from Anne Arundel. The students told me that they had never had any prior exposure to Special Olympics or interaction with individuals with intellectual disabilities. The thanked me for having our athletes on their campus and for the opportunity to interact with them… it was a simple but powerful example of the power of our athletes to transform lives.
On September 18th, the Baltimore Ravens hosted over 70 Special Olympics Maryland athletes for an NFL Play60 clinic. Before the clinic, I had the opportunity to meet with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to thank him for his support of our athletes. During our conversation, he was quick to share that he loves having the chance to interact with our athletes because they are always so authentic in their conversations. When Joe joined his fellow players and coaches in the indoor training facility, he moved quickly to greet the athletes and introduce himself to them. The athletes were broken up into sub-groups, rotating through a series of skills stations. Joe went to the quarterback handoff station first, where he took turns with an athlete first receiving a handoff before trading spots and handing off to the same athlete. Joe then threw some passes to athletes running short out patterns. He was joined there by Josh Woodrum – who, as many of you may know, has a brother who is a Special Olympics athlete.
Among the many players involved, i also had the chance to thank Ravens safety Tony Jefferson for being out there. He had a smile and a high five for every athlete who came through his station. Members of the coaching staff were also present and led the stations with great enthusiasm. The common refrain from players to coaches was, “this is a great day for us, these athletes are great to have out here, and we’re all having fun.” Once again, the power of our athletes to transform lives.
We are headed toward a flurry of state championship competitions. On October 1st, our golfers will compete at Queenstown Harbor Golf Club in our annual state championship. We continue to have qualifying events in flag football, power lifting, tennis, distance running, cycling, and soccer, all leading up to our Fall Sports Festival at Mount St. Mary’s University and our state soccer championship at Crown Sports in Fruitland with support from Salisbury University. It will be an exceptional month of competition.
Our athletes are leading the way to build communities of dignity and respect, together through sport we are continuing to create a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.
Choose to Include,
James C. Schmutz
President & CEO