KINGSTON—Two teams squared off against each other on the moist soccer field, one in red and the other in green. The play began and it was a game, a real one, as the crowd looked on and cheered. They shouted for their brothers and sons and friends as though a crowd at a bullfight. On this Saturday morning they cheered for the participants of the Special Olympics.
“The Special Olympics is all about a celebration of acceptance and respect,” said Dennis DeJesus, CEO of the Special Olympics. “For many of our athletes this event is the one opportunity to get away and vacation as a group away from home. It really is all about their camaraderie and friendship.”
The 2011 Summer Special Olympics, held annually at the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center, offers numerous sports in which adults and children with intellectual disabilities compete. 1,500 athletes along with 500 coaches and 2,000 family members and friends gather, competing passionately and developing lasting friendships. The atmosphere which flows through the tents and fields is one of understanding and fun, and focus rests on completing the race, not on participants’ inabilities.
“It is important to teach everyone about inclusion,” said Joshua Duquette, a 15 year volunteer for the Wampanoag Warriors team. “We have an athlete, Evan Miller, who is a hell of a swimmer and Captain of the Lincoln High School swim team. I don’t think that in today’s society everyone knows what we do. They hear the word ‘disability’ and think that the athletes can’t do it. They can.”
Special Olympics athletes train year-round in order to prepare for the Summer Games, aided by athletic groups such as the Wampanoag Warriors or the centers which house and take care of them on a daily basis. Duquette has volunteered to assist Rhode Island participants in the national Special Olympics Games, held every four years in cities across the country. This past year the event was held in Ames, Iowa.
“Rhode Island sends about thirty athletes to the national games who are the best of the best,” said Duquette. “The national games are the grand stage upon which athletes can strive to compete and put their best foot forward. They are treated like athletes too. If they cannot finish, they are disqualified like any other event.”
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