Greetings from Byfield: Special Olympics Reopens

Eric Lin ’22 shares the history of Special Olympics and interviews with coach, athlete, and a parent from Greater Springfield

Eric Lin

Greetings from Byfield! The Governor’s Academy had the privilege of hosting the 2021 Special Olympics Soccer Tournament on Sunday, November 7th in person! It was a beautifully sunny day in South Byfield and the tournament was a great success; we raised over $1300 for the Gov4Shriveer fundraiser and more than 450 athletes and coaches participated in the tournament. We could not have done it without our faculty advisor Ms. Anna Finch, the co-directors Anna Farrell ‘22, Megan Tran ‘22, and Noah Bird ‘22, and more than 325 student, faculty, and staff volunteers, who devoted extra time and effort to make this event happen!

The mission of the Special Olympics includes providing individuals with intellectual disabilities opportunities to experience the joy of competitive sports. Originally founded by Eunice Shriver in 1968, the movement has spread across the globe and now includes more than 5.5 million athletes from 172 countries. The Governor’s Academy joined the movement in 1987, hosting statewide competitions for both soccer and cycling, but as soccer grew in popularity, cycling moved to a different location.  Eventually, the tournament grew to include 115 soccer teams at its peak.  For the past 34 years, thousands of students, faculty, and staff volunteered for the tournament and supported the athletes. 

The campaign for the Special Olympics Massachusettes division this year was the following, “Choose to Include,” which encapsulates the Academy’s resolve in fostering inclusion and acceptance for everyone and ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. Under the slogan “Let me Win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” athletes participated in the event with great enthusiasm and eagerness.

We had a chance to talk with some of the athletes regarding ways the Special Olympics affected their lives. Our first interviewee is a coach of a team from Greater Springfield.

Eric: Hi Nicole, what is the name of your team?

Nicole: Greater Springfield, and there are team two from Greater Springfield—so the Wolverines. 

Eric: How long have you been coaching the team?

Nicole: I have been coaching this team for three years now.

Eric: Sounds great. What is your favorite part of the Special Olympics?

Nicole: The favorite part is seeing the kids have fun and seeing how they have grown over the years. The potential that, you know, the things they learn throughout the year and to see how they got a little bit better with each game. How they support each other. So, lots of good parts.

Eric: Sounds great. And could you please name a few specific aspects of how the Special Olympics affected you and your team?

Nicole: I mean, it opens a whole new community for a lot of people. And I know, like, one of my younger sisters plays on the team, and this is like a whole new family for her, so there is a lot of camaraderie, and a lot of support from the other members. They really do support each other a lot.

Eric: That is wonderful to hear. Thank you so much for your time!

As we finished the interview, we asked Nicole if we may interview a player of her team, and if so, whom we could interview. She suggested Ryan, who took a head ball earlier. 

Eric: Hi Ryan, how are you doing today?

Ryan: Good.

Eric: How long have you been playing in the Special Olympics tournaments?

Ryan: Umm…forever?

Eric: Oh, ok. What is your favorite part about today?

Ryan: I got my first goal.

Eric: Sounds great. I heard from the coach that you took a head ball.

Ryan: Yeah. Yep.

Eric: How did that feel? Was that…

Ryan: It hurt me.

Eric: I am sorry to hear that. Do you look forward to maybe playing again next year?

Ryan: Yes.

Eric: Sounds good. How has the Special Olympics affected you?

Ryan: More happier.

Eric: Happier. Got you. Thank you so much for your time today, Ryan!

Ryan: Yep.

After interviewing Ryan, we interviewed his mother, Nancy.

Eric: Hi Nancy, How are you doing today?

Nancy: I am doing good. A bit cold, but I am good.

Eric: Yeah it is a bit cold today. So, what is your favorite part of the Special Olympics?

Nancy: Competing. I mean Ryan likes to compete. So I mean that is his big thing. It is just nice to see all the kids back together again.

Eric: Sounds great. How long has Ryan been participating in the Special Olympics?

Nancy: Oh god. Ryan has been with the Special Olympics for many years. I don’t even know. He is 32 now, so maybe 15, 16 years.

Eric: Wow that is a long time. So I imagine that the Special Olympics must have influenced Ryan over time?

Nancy: I think so.

Eric: So what are some specific changes or growths you have seen in Ryan?

Nancy: He is more outgoing now. I mean before he didn’t want to, really, interact with people. I mean now he is like the mayor. He talks to everybody whether he knows you or not. So he has grown a lot that way.

Eric: That is really wonderful to hear. I imagine Ryan must have made a lot of friends on the team.

Nancy: Yes, he does.

Eric: That sounds great. Thank you so much for your time today!

As evident from the voices of the participants, the Special Olympics is more than just a competition to them; it is a place that inspires pride, courage, and hope. It is a place for athletes to proudly demonstrate their skills and make lasting friendships with others. It is a place that proudly says we “choose to include.”