Susan's Blog

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Put Special Olympics on the Sports Pages

The thrill of victory…the agony of defeat. I remember that was some kind of tagline for a sports show which I never watched. I have never been into sports. Neither has Ned. Nor Max, nor Ben. For me it was just that I doubted my physical abilities, and didn’t find out that I had them until my forties! For Ned, it was not an interest, not even on his radar. For Max and Ben, not liking sports seems almost to be a cultural choice, a way of defining themselves away from the pack.

Nat has no such baggage. So he has (pretty much) always been willing to try any sport, and Special Olympics was the place to go. There were other organizations that welcomed him, but somehow the magic was not there — or else Nat’s development wasn’t there, or the team was a bad match, or something.

Nat played in the state qualifiers last Sunday, along with all of his teammates — both the team he practices with here at home on Saturdays, and the team he practices with at The House during the week.

Nat’s team lost both games. And this made me realize that the media should always cover Special Olympics statewide events, the same way they cover “Regular” school statewide sports. You’ll see, at the end of a given season, a big spread on this-or-that high school athlete, the one who helped their team win for the year at the state championships. You’ll see shots of students scoring goals, or their headshots when they’ve been given a scholarship to college or scholarships for high school students because of their athletic success.

But you’ll pretty much never see media coverage of Special Olympics unless it is in the human interest sections of the newspaper. A feel-good story. And of course, that makes sense because Special Olympics does make everyone feel good. But then everyone misses the bigger point: that it is a sports competition.

At the state qualifiers, I saw Nat’s team play together for the first time. I met the teammates and assessed them in my head. I wondered if this one or that one could shoot and score; I wondered how skilled Nat would be this year. When the game started, I saw the Unified Players run their asses off, and then during a time-out or a substitution, I listened to how they would whisper with each other about the rival team’s strategies (Yes, I said strategies!!). I also heard our Unified Players (non-special needs) saying with a little bit of anxiety: “They’re running plays!” and then figure out, with the coaches, what to do, who to put in when. I saw tight-lipped coaches, and persnickety refs. I wanted Nat to be put in more. But he was not as much on his game that day, let’s face it!

I also saw the teammates do fist bumps and high-fives whenever one of them made a basket, and the pride on their faces. The way some of them just could not stop looking at their mothers, and so would miss the ball. The way one of them did not know which basket to shoot at.

Our team lost both games. Still, in the larger world, the newspapers report on the Colts as well as the Saints, right? You want to read all about what happened. The brilliant plays, the failed plays. The thing you could have done better than that guy, or the thing that makes that guy a god.

It is the same at SO. And in addition, there is the knowledge of all the SO athletes’ personal challenges that they push themselves to overcome. At the Special Olympics, no one is phoning it in.

Very, very “special,” as you might say, and so endearing that we felt tidal waves of tears whenever anything happened — disappointing or wonderful.

You would, too. If you could find the story anywhere else but here.


Exellent point, Susan. Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

I coached my students one year for Special Olympics. It was so much fun! And I remember one mom being so amazed at how her son tried so hard.

It was very rewarding!

— added by r.b. on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 11:00 am

but they worked as a team which is fabulous.

I just finished reading Making Peace with Autism. Extremely helpful.

Thank YOU!

— added by Jenn on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Excellent suggestion.

— added by Kent Adams on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I think you are right: A lot more media should be directed towards the Special Olympics so these autistic participants can feel proud of what they are bravely doing.

— added by Autism and 14-Monkey Experiment on Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 11:42 pm

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