Other people’s nostalgia: the most annoying emotion ever

Alternate title: Remember the good ol’ days when society didn’t pander to people’s fond memories of boring, trite shit?

Okay, obviously the title is a bit of an exaggeration, given that–y’know–anger and hatred have done a lot more terrible things for the human species than nostalgia has, but I’m not saying nostalgia is atrocity-free, as I delve further into my madness-fueled ramblings.  Merriam-Webster defines it as either homesickness, or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”.  Geez Merriam-Webster, that was needlessly vicious.  Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Most of the time, getting into nostalgic conversations with people is pretty enjoyable, sometimes boring, but always a little cute if nothing else.  Like listening to older people discuss their favourite early to mid-20th century era movies, and the impact they had in terms of story, special effects, and magnificent acting chops.  Their memories of that time period are about how wonderous it was to have a window into parts of the world, in their very own living room.  As someone who did not live in that time–looking at it only retroactively–my thoughts tend more towards how it takes my eyes around 10 minutes to adjust to a black and white movie, and wondering why every audio recording of any man’s voice from before the 1970’s sounds like Superman talking into a tin can.  Truly we each live in our own worlds.

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Also, why does the Wizard of Oz look so much better than movies made 20 years later?  Image credits, https://reneelouise21.wordpress.com/dorothys-day-with-the-wizard-of-oz/

Like everything in the world, nostalgia is good in an appropriate dosage.  A little bit re-establishes your history, and brings some warm comfort.  A lot can be bad, it might to someone taking drastic, questionable measures to make their nation great “again”, or worse, make a career out of satirizing popular movies on YouTube.

Movies.  Movies, movies, movies.  I was going to go somewhere with that.

Ah yes!  You notice how basically everything that comes out in theatres is a remake, sequel, prequel, adaptation or other form of plagiarism inspiration of a previous work?  It’s logical: less creative effort, capitalizing on nostalgia as a marketing ploy, and if people keep buying it, it works.  So as an internet and media-based culture, we’re constantly being bombarded with coldly designed, corporate packaged nostalgia trips.  Even for things we didn’t even give a shin guard about when these things were in their hey day.

It’s like I’m browsing the internet [suspend your disbelief, I know], and Hollywood texts me using an inescapable pop-up text, reading, “Hey Callum, do you remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”

“Yeah,” I reply, “But I never watched it.  My mom thought it was too violent for me to watch cartoons about martial artists beating people up.  So instead, she put me into Tae Kwon Do class, and my sister did Kung Fu.”

“Uh, so you did watch it then?”  Hollywood asks persistently, sweating at the thought of another $100 million dollar investment going down the drain.

“No, although I did watch Jackie Chan movies and all the Karate Kid entries.  I guess my mom thought that if I ever had to fight, I at least would know how to properly fight, instead of dressing up like a Renaissance-era painter and–”

WATCH THIS MOVIE IT WILL BRING YOU BACK TO YOUR CHILDHOOD!” Hollywood interjects, bombarding me with images of CGI’s characters oozing fake charisma.  And then I see the ad again.  Over, and over, and over.

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Maybe it was because attacking your enemies with swords is too violent, but kicking them in the face is okay.  Image credits, https://valleyrelicsmuseum.org/uncategorized/valley-cinema-the-karate-kid-2/

But it’s not just the Adolescent Erroneus Members of the Family Testodines*, it’s our entire pop culture.  Star Wars came back, every Disney movie is being remade into a live action version [just like the original!], Harry Potter came back, Batman and Superman came back.  TV shows, YouTube [which I definitely watch more than TV, and is definitely much more infested with the nostalgia blight], newspapers, everybody’s talking about things they loved back in the day, why it was so great, and why I should spend some of my limited time on this Earth thinking about it.  It’s madness.

*barely longer than their actual name

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Mario’s last game came out in 2018!  He’s been around 37 years.  That said, if this game ever came onto PlayStation, I would buy it in a heartbeat.  Image credits, https://www.technobuffalo.com/2017/06/17/super-mario-odyssey-modded-64/

I could go on about the pop culture angle, and I guess I should touch on it briefly before moving on to the bigger picture.  Nintendo–while also in many ways more creative than other video game companies–has been using the same characters, settings, and gameplay mechanics for years; even when they create something new, it still uses a lot of very familiar archetypes and tropes.  While I appreciate the artistry, creativity, and truly all-ages nature of their work, this aspect has made me a little uncomfortable for a while.  Except I haven’t really put it into words until now.

[By the way I’m a playstation and mobile gamer.  And I honestly do not care what you or anyone else chooses to game on, Nintendo or otherwise.]

It’s also important to remember that, at least some of us, care way too much about pop culture.  It’s all a money making enterprise based on exchanging our money and our time to consume whatever media they produce for us.  That even goes for the endless amounts of internet articles, newspaper articles and snarky YouTube videos intended to merely discuss a singular or multiple work of fiction.  Ad revenue, it truly makes the world go round.

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I was very excited when they announced a fourth Jurassic Park film.  And I enjoyed seeing it.  Everyone is susceptible to Hollywood nostalgia trends, and we’re entitled to enjoy it.  I just think we just need to control it better.  Image credits, http://www.immersiononline.net/film/Jurassic-World-review

So you watch or read one article for about 10 minutes, enjoy the creator’s content, and then spend time on another article that takes 20 minutes.  Or maybe you’re more interested in learning more about a particular game/movie/book/moisturizing product, so you digest a different creator’s piece discussing that same work.  The cycle repeats.  I mean, hey, it is your and my free time, right?  It’s not like you’re foregoing work or personal improvement to enjoy this nostalgia binge, right? Well no, you’re not, but you are letting them get into your head, and pilot the emotional centre of your brain for profit.


Well, I could’ve ended it there.  Probably should, but I never really know when to quit, do I?  Here goes.

Politicians use nostalgia as well.  I would argue that since Conservatism can be summed up with “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and learn from the past”, while Liberalism is more like “let’s improve the system, and what’s new it usually better”, the former are easier to trick with this than the latter.  Not that both aren’t completely force-fed nostalgia.

I joked earlier about how Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan banks on nostalgia.  But, doesn’t it?  I imagine the “again” refers to sometime during most voter’s lifetimes, since America had slaves before the 1850’s, and women were only given equal voting rights in 1920.  But, and I’m not just saying this to fulfill my duties as a Canadian, America was never great.

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We never had moon cities in the past.  So why is the past so great again?  Image credits, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/Holidays-on-the-Moon-and-Mars-and-travelling-in-drones-could-be-possible-in-100-years/

When it wasn’t in a depression, it was fighting some kind of war, oppressing people of colour/sexual minorities/disabilities/religious minorities/you get the picture, on the brink of creating an extinction-level event due to a little disagreement with Russia, and things have generally been improving since then until around 2016-ish.  Don’t get me wrong, The United States is a beautiful country full of good people and vibrant culture.  It’s also a nation with amazing potential.  But that potential can’t be built off falsehood, or mis-remembered truth.

Outside of being yet another pointless discussion on American politics, I hope that’s a message that you and I can walk away with.  To use in our daily lives.

I believe that we should learn from the past, but we shouldn’t love the past.  The past is an old spirit, perhaps like the memory of a past family member, or the dead author of a beloved book.  They’re gone, they’re never coming back, but they left us a legacy to cherish and work with.  The future is more like a new born baby, it exists only in what it’s potential could be, and if we don’t give it enough attention–if we care more about what was than what could be–it’ll die.  And then we couldn’t revive the future anymore than we could rebuild the past.

 

 

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Buy TMNT: Out of the Shadows NOW on Blu-Ray!  It’ll take you back to your childhood before you had responsibilities and three kids to take care of!  Also, don’t forget that progress is bad, and the good ol’ days were when we used sharpened sticks to fight off man-eating bears!  Image credits, https://flickdirect.com/movies/2235/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-out-of-the-shadows/movie.ashx

 

 

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The Special Olympic Youth Invitational Games 2019

Writer’s Note: This is one of the posts that I created and worked with the good people at Special Olympics Ontario during my summer job at the office.  I was waiting for a good time–the right time–to post this so that its content was timely.  Given that this is a new year, I figured it would be perfect to showcase a little of what SO has been planning for some of the months we have ahead of us. 

The 2019 Special Olympics Invitational Youth Games. I’ve heard and seen mentionings of this for a while now, and some people in the office are planning the Youth Games out right now as we speak. There is a lot of anticipation around this event. But what are the Youth Games?

They are an international sports competition for SO Athletes between the ages of 13 and 21. It is in similar scale to Special Olympics’ regular World Games, but managed out of Special Olympic Ontario’s School Programs department instead of the community-level Games section of the office. 2,300 Athletes from School and Youth Programs are going to be invited: 1,200 from Ontario, 300 from other parts of Canada, 500 from the United States, and 300 people from other countries around the world. This is the first event of its kind, making it a new opportunity for youths in SO.

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Ontario, it’s huge.  Image retrieved from, https://www.ontario-canada-travel.com/map-of-ontario.html

What sports are going to be played? The usual 5 suspects in School Champs: basketball, soccer, bocce, track and field, and floor hockey. Unified and Traditional events are offered, among multiple divisioning levels to ensure fair competition.

2 different floor hockey tournaments are going down: the regular Youth competitions, and a separate tournament sponsored by the NHL. This NHL-sponsored tournament is for adults in SO. It is designed to honour and recreate the original Canadian floor hockey team that participated in the 1968 International Games in Soldier Field, Chicago.

Post-secondary Unified Intramural teams are welcome as well, and will be having their own tournament alongside the other 2. As if that wasn’t enough, an elementary school sports festival is going on during this time as well. Intermediate programs are the only ones not being represented here, probably because they’re so new [not even running yet at time of writing].

How do get you invited to these Games? In Ontario, they’re going to be using the Regional Qualifiers as a tryouts for these Games, just like how the Qualifiers usually determine who is going to Provincials. This year, the Invitational Games are replacing the Provincials in School Championships and joining with the Floor Hockey Provincials. I don’t feel like anyone will have a problem with that.

Now, hopefully you can see why there is so much excitement around these Games. However, the School Championships were not started with international competition in mind. They were not started with the idea that some of their athletes would be picked for a large scale event meant to celebrate the 50 years that Special Olympics has been around, nor were they created with anything other than the local scale in mind.

4 Corners was the original name of School Championships. Competitions did exist in high schools for quite a bit of time before then—School Programs began in the year 2000, and 4 Corners officially started in 2011—but honestly, the Secondary School Programs didn’t have the same energy or passion like they do now. The competitions that went on before 2011 were isolated; there were no qualifiers for athletes to try and cinch a spot in a big Game like the Provincials.

It’s a large part of how Special Olympics works, the Games. Dreaming of going to a big, festive competition—just like the Olympians do on TV—it really gets you moving. Especially when there’s no limit until the International scale, when you’re probably being flown on a plane somewhere, and everything just feels so big. It motivates you to train, and improve yourself physically, mentally and socially so that you have a chance at winning.  This is everything that Special Olympics was designed to do: improve its athletes in all parts of life.

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The dream of getting to compete in the World Games–such as the 2019 Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE–are one such example of motivation.  Image retrieved from http://wam.ae/en/details/1395302643942

Take it from me. I grew up a little more health-focused than most kids, my mom is a nurse, and one of my favourite movies was Super Size Me. I’ve been physically active as long as I can remember, first starting in Special Olympics when I was 8 years old, through swimming. Now I’m also involved with basketball, soccer, and track; as someone with a competitive personality, I work hard in all of them. Outside of SO, I do Tae Kwon Do and currently have a first degree black belt in it, which was one of the hardest things I’ve earned.

Even then, 2018 was the year that I pushed myself even further, and my body has improved as a result. Why? This was the year that I knew in advance that I’d be competing in Columbus for the Unified NIRSA league, Chicago for the 50th Anniversary Unified World Cup, and the Qualifiers for Provincials are coming up this 2019. Because I wanted to do the best I could, it motivated me to do in-house exercises—taking what I knew from my years of experience with martial arts and Special Olympics sports—so that I could increase my endurance and cardio*.

By the time I went to Ohio, the first Big Game that I was training for, I noticed that I was running around a lot longer without getting tired like I used to. I still enjoy the benefits of my improved health, long after these tournaments have past. My story, like a lot of my Special Olympics stories, is not unique. Across all the ability levels, ages and backgrounds, the drive to compete in our division of our favourite sports motivates all of us to improve ourselves. And it works.

*Side note: Healthy Athletes is running the educational Fit Five program, for other Athletes in the same boat as me who might need some help in figuring out exercises for themselves.

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These are some of booklets that they sometimes hand out at Special Olympic events.  You can also find information online by searching for “Special Olympics Fit 5”

Long story short, the problem with the old secondary School Programs is they didn’t have that big goal to reach, so there was no reason to train. People would show up for the one-day tournament, and that was it. The 4 Corners introduced a Provincial Games, that people could only get into if they made it past the Regional Qualifiers. And that’s when all bets were off.

So, I talked with James Noronha, who was one of the 5 people who sat down at the table to discuss the School Championships—then the 4 Corners—in its early planning stages. He said that, “We always intended it to be big. I don’t think we expected it to be so big that quickly.” Talking about how people in the SOO office had to basically catch up with the success of their work, he said, “It was, still is to be honest, a bit of a runaway train.”

That being said, it is obvious to me that James and everyone else in School Programs likes riding this runaway train, and maybe—on some level—they might not want it to stop.

The Youth Invitational Games are really exciting. They’re basically the 50th Anniversary Unified World Cup that I went to, but for the School Programs. It’s not just me and the other athletes who are excited, but the people who work for Special Olympics as well.

Glenn MacDonnell [Special Olympics Ontario’s CEO] has been hoping for an event like this for a long time. It couldn’t have happened if not for School Championships’ massive growth. The people who work in School Programs—from long-running veterans like James and Glenn, to those who just got in this year—get to see the fruits of their labour in the joy that Athletes and Partners experience thanks to their hard work.

For the Youth Games, that labour fruit is even more special. Because while most Special Olympic programs have at least some standing in the rest of the organization, this is entirely new. It just started 6 years ago, in 2011. But you don’t have to take it from me. During my time as a summer student, I interviewed Kirsten Bobbie, who is the manager of these Youth Games, and was also one of the people who saw the early stages of School Championships long before I even knew they existed.

Kirsten described this growth by comparing two Provincial Opening Ceremonies: the 2012 Opening at Wilfred Laurier—which 40 Athletes attended—to the 2018 Ceremonies in Peterborough which were witnessed by 900 SO Athletes. She said, “We’ve grown from James standing on a table at East Side Mario’s, to live on television in a whole arena, this year in Peterborough.”

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While this is probably not the exact restaurant that the 2012 Opening Ceremonies, it probably looked similar to this one.  Image retrieved from https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g154995-d793785-Reviews-East_Side_Mario_s-London_Ontario.html

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This is a pic I snapped of people who were sitting on the sidelines around the large crowd of Athletes that I enjoyed the 2018 Opening Ceremonies with, to give you a sense of scale.  And it doesn’t even show most of the arena.

“It’s grown drastically.” Kirsten says, “Having said that, all of our main concepts are still the same, and they’re the same at all the Games. Our Athletes get to march in, we light the cauldron, The Flame comes in, the LETR [Law Enforcement Torch Run]. All of the main people are the same, we’ve just expanded the number of people that are there,” As someone who went to the Peterborough Games, I can completely attest to her statement.

It’s this growth that Kirsten hopes the Youth Invitational Games will help spread to other parts of Special Olympics, across the world.

“These Games, in my mind, are an opportunity for Ontario to showcase to the rest of the world all the great things we’ve been doing in the past six years.”, she explains. Kristen also pointed out that Special Olympics Ontario is the only chapter to hold a School Provincials every year, and one of the only SO chapters to do so holding Unified and Traditional competitions side by side for their schools. “This is our chance,” she says, “to invite everyone in to see it. […] for them to go home and tell all their friends about how great it is and start Special Olympics programming just like [Ontario’s Programs] in their schools in their hometowns.”

To me, it feels quite fitting to end Special Olympics’ 50th Anniversary, by starting an event that could help build its future for the next 50 years. A future that is an inclusive, unified, accessible place for all the world’s youth.

 

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Happy 2019!

 

Alright.  Been a while.  Too long a while.

 

I don’t know about you, but the end of the year really just crept up on me.  Probably should’ve posted on here more, don’t really have an excuse for not doing so.  Guess I’ve been… kind of in a slump.  Being a young person, spending so much time at home, doing all of your studying through a computer, without any classmates or teachers to give you any examples to strive for outside of exam times.  I’m used to that, but it’s been a really long time I’ve been at it.  When the end goal is so long to get to, and you’re still working towards it, it’s kinda hard to want to keep working towards it.  I’ve been slowing down this last three months, and I hate myself for it.

But, New Years is here, and a New Year ushers in new beginnings.  Or, so they say.  Kinda dumb how they put it in the middle of winter, eh?  No symbolism in that.  Literally just tacked it on after the other Holidays.  The Persian New Year is at the start of Spring.  That makes sense, right?  When the year, y’know, restarts.

But, winter New Year has kind of a practicality to it, even if lacks the beauty of symbolism.  Winter is the roughest time of year, so it’s good to have a season of holiday to remind us of what life is all about.  And New Years put all of last year’s events into perspective, perspective being like a good dose of medicine as we go into the beer-breathed, fingerless-glove wearing month of January.

I don’t do actual resolutions, because I would just set the bar too high, fail to reach it, and then get mad at myself.  Or I’d set the bar too low, easily surpass it, and then get mad at myself for no good reason.  I think having a general idea of what your long terms goals are, and coming up with a sustainable plan to reach them, makes more sense.

Like, instead of buying a gym membership and trying to reach a certain body type/weight/shape, think of why you’re doing that.  Health reasons or looks?  Long term health goals could also be met with adding spicy variety to your diet, and reducing mental health can also work wonders for the body, although that’s not what most advertisements would have you believe*.  Same with the looks department: clothes [applies to guys and girls], hairstyles, makeup [you’d be surprised guys], all also help the long-term goal of looking good.  If you just focus on reaching The Long Term Goals by the immediate plan, eventually you might not be as fit for going to the gym in the same way you once were.  And then you’re frustrated you aren’t doing the gym like you used to, even though you’ve already forgotten why it was so important in the first place.

Yeah, I’m totally projecting in this post.  Sorry, but that’s kinda what blogs are for.  Hopefully my little end-of-the-year rants have some helpful suggestions, but different things work for different people.  What works for me might not for you, and vice versa.  Too many things in life are treated like they’re one size fits all.

As a final piece of last minute, literally-thought-this-shit-up-today sage [more like oregano] wisdom, don’t include politics too much in your assessment of 2018.  I mean, they’re important, but they don’t really play into your life specifically [unless you’re a politician, in which case, holy shit things got crazy eh?!].  There’s sizeable news proof that things are getting worse, and they are, but there’s always news like that.  Please don’t run around saying–or worse, believing–that 2018 was a bad year because Trump is still president, Britain fucked itself and a thousand other unpleasant things are happening in our sad little ape governments.

What did you do?  What did I do?  Did things go well in our lives.  Yes, and no.  That’s true for everybody, albeit to different degrees.  For me, I’m just going to look at what worked, what didn’t and adjust my life for the arbitrarily designated unit of time known as 2019, accordingly.

 

 

 

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The time I Delivered the Puck to an AHL Hockey Game

 

Marlies RT

Hockey.  The most proudly Canadian of all sports, and an icon of our country.  I could list facts and figures proving this statement, but I don’t need to do that!  You already know how Canadian hockey is!  It’s Hockey!

I’ve always felt a little un-Canadian for not being a part of the following for hockey that a lot of my peers are.   Sometimes I’d joked that it was the American half of me [although the sport’s icy charm is quite influential down south, thank y’all very much].  I don’t understand why I hadn’t gotten into such a beautiful game before.  Especially after watching the Marlies game yesterday.  I used to think that it was because I didn’t have enough time: I had enough time for the sports I play and to watch enough television to keep up with basketball and soccer.  Well, now I’m thinking I should make some more time.  I’m thinking I should do that now, while Hockey Season is on.

Marlies tickets

I got free tickets from Special Olympics to watch the Marlies play their first game in the Coca-Cola [formerly Ricoh] Coliseum, and jumped at the chance.  Even though I didn’t use to watch hockey on tv, it was always a sport that I found enjoyable to watch.  I’ve been to hockey games in the past, and I don’t ever remember not having a good time.

It was a bonus that the seats happened to be in the VIP Suite, with a fancy lounge, catered food and a view as clear and up close as the angle used by broadcasters for HD sports.  And, it was an even bigger bonus that I was offered the incredible, humbling honour of getting to drop the puck for opening ceremonies.

Marlies Callum Ruby Coca-Cola VP

So, the way they presented it was really cool.  There were two Special Olympic Athletes, one male one female [guess which one I was], along with a representative from Coca-Cola.  So that way people would see more than one Athlete representing the people that are in Special Olympics.

As an additional bonus, the other Athlete–Ruby–is also a really cool person.  Most Athletes in Special Olympics are hard-working, genuinely kind people, and then there are those who encapsulate that ideal.  A lot of the Athletes [who are also long-time friends] that I watched the game with are also ideal people like that: some of them I look up to as role models.  Ruby is definitely one those really awesome Athletes.

Malries walking out

So, the plan was that we both walk out carrying the puck together, and drop it on the count of three.  We had plenty of time to remember that [I was probably the only one who needed that time], and take in the sights.  The “sights” being the fact that we were court-side while the Marlies were practicing!

Marlies players onto ice

You definitely see another side to professional athletes when you see them up close, in their element.  I imagine it’s easy to think they’d look less impressive in person, when the filters of a television feed are taken away, but that is so not the case.  Quite the contrary, you can see why both the athletes and the sport around them have become so legendary.

Marlies front & back

One thing I go on about a lot is the crowd.  I’ve been to a lot of sport games–a lot games for different types of sports–and that’s one of the few constants.  It doesn’t matter how different people are, what life experience, ethnicity or political outlook they hail from, everyone comes together to watch a good game.  That’s powerful.  And it’s really powerful to see all those people looking down around you, next to and standing on the place where that game takes place.

Marlies shaking hands

It’s equally impressive to see the people who actually place in these games.  It doesn’t matter what the sport is, but I’ve found that pro athletes always have a gravitas when they’re doing their thing in the zone.  Especially hockey players, with all the equipment on, it’s hard not to see them as gladiators, or a team of superheroes.  So yeah, really cool to see them up close, and fist bump them as they came off the ice.  And shake hands with the captains of both teams when we dropped the puck.

Marlies up close

The ceremonies were awesome.  The fireworks that announced the Marlies’ new banner, celebrating the team as official Calder Cup Champions.  Starting players from both teams standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they listened to the operatic renditions of both the American and Canadian National Anthems.  The benchers sitting by the ice, ready to jump on at a moment’s notice when the game starts.  Being in the middle of all this, taking it all in, seeing it to a level of detail and honesty that you don’t usually get to witness from afar, and realizing that it was as cool as you always thought it would be when watching from the bleeder section of that one annoying-but-affordable corner seat in the stands.  In a word, epic.

Marlies with the puck

Being able to physically hold an official AHL puck, and drop it during an official AHL game, to take part in all that festivity, it is something that you never truly forget.  And I’m very grateful that Special Olympics gave me, Ruby, and other Athletes the opportunity to do this, and other things like this.  They don’t do it because they have to.  They do it because they want to.

Marlies Ruby Pete Callum

Ruby and me with my friend Pete who works with the Marlies

As for the rest of the game night, it was suitably awesome.  I caught up with a good friend of mine–a Special Olympics teammate–who works for the Marlies; we were both equally excited to see each other both having an opportunity to be with the Team down by the Ice.  Also spent the game watching with some perfect company, including those aforementioned friends and role models.  The suite managers took very good care of us, being polite, checking regularly, and comping us some sweet food.

Marlies VIP suite

 

–For those wondering, the puck drop lead to a brief clash of sticks between both captains, ultimately going to the Marlies having first possession.  While it was really cool to have one of my actions actually benefit the home team [which is something I think most sport fans dream of but can never actually do], I promise that we did not rig that outcome!  Marlies are just that good.

As for the game itself, it was fast-paced, tactical and exciting to watch.  The trifecta of hockey.  The Cleveland Monsters did have a lead on us, and at one point it was a scarily big lead, but the Marlies managed to score once more, moving to a smaller gap that no one could regard with any disrespect.  Our goalie also stopped an uncounted amount of shots too.  The last four minutes also saw the Marlies do a last-ditch power play, and while it didn’t lead to us scoring [Cleveland goalie might actually be a ninja], it showed how awesome their teamwork and puck-handling skills were that they could go four minutes without being scored on an empty, goalie-less net.

Marlies view from VIP

All in all, a pretty spectacular way to spend Thanksgiving.  Oh yeah, it was Canadian Thanksgiving, I almost forgot because hockey felt more important, and Americans tend to celebrate louder than Canadians do.  So, by the time all the thanksgiving-themed tv specials, advertisements and retail promos hit, it will be a month after the holiday actually ended [here].  It’s like a weird, delayed after-effect.  Anyways…

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I guess I should give thanks.  Obviously, thanks to Special Olympics, both for allowing me to do awesome things like this, and just for helping people out in general.  That’s a big thing I’m grateful for to SO that some people tend to overlook sometimes: it’s not just what they do for people, make it to the World Games or get to have amazing experiences court-side at professional hockey matches, it’s the improvements that every Athlete sees.

Marlies excited 2

 

You don’t have to be a certain type of competitiveness, a certain degree of socially approachable, or a specific age or gender to be a Special Olympics Athlete.  And you don’t need to be any of those things to experience the full range of support and love that me and others enjoy.  So, I’m grateful to that to.

I’m also grateful to the Toronto Marlies, for three things.  First, for giving my friend such an awesome job, and having him as a recognized and cherished part of their crew.  Second, for allowing me and Ruby to have the honour of delivering their puck, and getting to the see the pre-game events from the same exact way that their players do.  Third, for putting on a really great game, and doing their best to represent Toronto through hard work, teamwork and sportsmanship.  GG guys.

Marlies from behind

Lastly, I’m thankful to everyone that made this possible.  Words don’t feel like enough, but they’re what I have, so I’ll say them again.  Thank You.

 

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Unified Teams in the Special Olympics School Championships

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Image retrieved from http://www.playunified.org/

While Unified Sports did exist in Canada—mostly through exhibition games—they truly gained a foothold through the School Programs. In 2015, School Championships [then known as the 4 Corners] held some invitational, Unified demonstration games at the Regional Qualifiers for that school year. 40 Athletes and Partners were involved. Those games made such a demand for Unified sports that—in the same school year, during the 2016 Provincials—there were Unified teams for every division level. In that one school year, the number of Athletes and Partners involved in Unified Sports went from 40 to 800. It’s been growing ever since, pretty much as fast as you’d expect.

There is a lot of reasoning, planning and strategizing behind most projects that come out of Special Olympic offices. Same goes for having Unified Teams in School Programs. While I could explain all of said reasoning’s merits just through my experience as an Athlete, I’ve also heard some interesting things from the people behind a lot of this stuff that hadn’t crossed my mind before. In the spirit of Unified Sports, I would like to combine both perspectives in this article.

School Programs, in general, were started to reach younger Athletes. Around the year 2000, not as many young people with Intellectual Disabilities were getting involved with Special Olympics, despite the fact that [as I’m sure the news will regale you about] the numbers of people like me are still increasing. SO wanted to introduce people into our culture and programs when they were young, because it made for the easiest and most comfortable transition. While that mainly applies to people with ID’s, it equally affects their parents, Unified Partners and Special Olympics volunteers. They’re invaluable to how the organization runs.

So, the hope is that after they graduate, people will leave school wanting to get into Special Olympics even after their time in the School Programs is done. If you imagine someone who first got in through Active Start in the Sport Festivals, learned how to compete through the new Intermediate Programs, continued competing through Secondary School and maybe even College/University as well, you can see how things would work out this way for a lot of people. Again, that’s also including people such as the family of someone with an ID, Unified Partners and volunteers who do not have Intellectual Disabilities, etc.

People in Unified Sports are equals. I cannot emphasis this point enough. Athletes are paired with Partners of a similar ability level, and both are expected to play their hardest. There’s no bias or unfair advantage given to one or the other during their games, and they usually play in what I call a 55/45 ratio. On an odd-numbered team, there’ll be an even amount of Athletes and Partners, plus one more Athlete as the odd man out. For example, a 5-on-5 basketball team will have 3 Athletes and 2 Partners on the court, whereas 3-on-3 basketball will have 2 Athletes and 1 Partner.

More than playing in the same games, Athletes and Partners practice together, travel together and pretty much go through everything as a single team. They’re never singled out or separated. If a Special Olympics Athlete is getting interviewed by someone from the press, a Partner will accompany them, and the focus will be put on both of them. I know this because I was interviewed by a member of the press—a very nice man named Paul Attfield—and his Globe and Mail article included the perspectives of both me and my teammate Brandon, to show the whole Athlete/Partner dynamic [1].

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This pic was taken last year at the Special Olympics Unified MLS All Star Game, held in Chicago.  Brandon–on the right–was a coach on that year’s TFC Unified team, which is where I met him and Stephanie, who is on the left side of the picture.  One Athlete, one Partner, and one coach at Soldier Field.

It’s a point I keep bringing up in this post, that Partners and Athletes are regarded as equals. I do that because it’s something that is important to me. As someone with Autism, I’ve found that I had to work harder to do things that people without Intellectual Disabilities usually found easier or more intuitive. That’s why it is incredibly gratifying to me, to have an opportunity that I am at the same level these people are, even if I took a different path to get here. I also love getting to watch other Special Olympic Athletes prove themselves as well, for the same reason.

Unified sports are just as popular with the SO Ontario office as they are with Athletes and Partners. I talked with Chris, who works on the elementary and post-secondary programs: he played a big role both in the NIRSA team I was on and in the upcoming Intermediate programs for children grades 6-8.

He is openly a big fan of Unified programs, and like many people in SOO, is passionate about making Unified sports more popular in Canada. I asked him about what—in his mind—the big attraction behind Unified sports is.

I think they offer a better understanding of Athletes with ID’s to their peers—to their mainstream peers.” He said, “I think that it’s just a more inclusive way of providing sport programming. Seems pretty obvious to me.”

I definitely feel a bond between the entire team whenever I play Unified. The only difference I notice is that Unified teams tend to be a little more diverse, which is a good thing because I love talking to people from different walks of life. They encourage social growth more than most other sporting leagues, never stunting it.

Interested to hear more about Chris’s take on Unified sports, I pressed him on why their benefits were “obvious” to him.

“I think that when you offer any type of exclusive program,” he said, “whether it’s to people just that are Neurotypical or Athletes that are just with Intellectual Disability, you’re dividing the population and there’s no need for that.”

Relating to his own experience, kind of like how I do, Chris elaborated, “I play in the B league for hockey. There’s people that are better than me, there’s people that are not as good as me. Why should—just because someone has an Intellectual Disability—that you sort of push him to a completely different sport league?”

“Why can’t he just play in my men’s recreational sport league at their appropriate ability?”

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This is a photo I pulled from the public website of the Brampton Men’s Recreational Soccer Club (BMRSC). I’d like you to compare this image to any random team picture from Special Olympics, Paralympics, or any other differently-abled sporting league so you can see how similar they actually are. Image retrieved from http://bmrsc.ca/gallery/

The new Intermediate competitions are going to be made entirely of Unified teams. This isn’t just because of a push for more Unified sports, but also because it’s hard for schools to find enough enough Athletes to field a team. Middle school classes are smaller than in high school, so having a team that is mixed between Athletes with ID’s and Partners without ID’s makes the whole concept practical.

Still, I thought it must have been a challenge to teach children as young as grade 6 about what Intellectual Disability is. It’s a complicated issue, and even today there’s a lot of misconceptions, stereotypes and a lot of people have never heard of it before. I have trouble explaining Special Olympics, Autism and similar topics to people who are my age, or even decades older; let alone to really young children who are just learning about the world.

Chris explained that, when it comes to teaching mainstream school kids about what ID’s are, I think most of the learning will be done through interaction with their peers on the team. That’s the idea behind Special Olympics sports and Unified sports in particular, is that the closest way to break down those barriers is to be playing on the same team as someone with an Intellectual Disability.”

So there you have it. Unified sports are just as fun and fairly balanced as Traditional Programs, but offer a fair bit more of learning experience for people developing social skills. That goes equally for Athletes and Partners. They give all athletes opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and are one of the most successful programs in educating people about Intellectual Disability in a way that sticks with them. In short, it’s a great idea. And I’m glad to see it taking off so well.

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This was a picture of the Ohio Unified NIRSA team, including me, my teammates, our coaches from both Special Olympics and the U of T Scarborough, with Chris on the furthermost left. Athletes and Partners were mixed together in the lineup you see here—at the head coach’s orders—to show how everyone who plays on a Unified team is equal. Feel free to compare our picture to the one from the BMRSC, like I said earlier, there isn’t that much of a difference.

 

You can read Attfield’s awesome article on Unified sports right here

1, Attfield, P., Mentor program makes soccer even more of a beautiful game

,[2018, July 13th], retrieved 2018, August 22nd, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article-mentor-program-makes-soccer-even-more-of-a-beautiful-game/

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Why People Start Working for the Special Olympics

This probably goes without saying, but being a summer student at Special Olympics Ontario has given me a lot of insight into the sides of SO that aren’t clearly shown to the general public. Particularly, the more personal sides. I’ve developed an interest in learning about why people who don’t have Intellectual Disabilities—or any family members with ID’s—get involved with the community.  I’ve been wondering that about both the employees of Special Olympics, and the Unified Partners.

Usually, whenever you look at media, the basic story for people who get involved with the Disability community [whether it be through SO or another platform] is that they either have a condition themselves, or have a family member with some kind of disability. For those who don’t have disabilities themselves, they’ll pretty much always be motivated by the family member’s disability, regardless of if the condition is acquired or innate. These aren’t the only stories we hear about a lot, but they’re both pretty common, at least in my eyes.

To me, the end message is that if someone is a part of the Disability Community, they have to be born into it. The connection lies in the blood: either the person’s own DNA, or that which they share with kin. We don’t often hear about people who just… became interested and joined.

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Could a person’s life choices be boiled down to this?  Image retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominance_(genetics)

But, that’s the story I’ve been hearing a lot from the people that work in the Special Olympics Ontario office: both full timers and fellow summer students alike. Multiple people have taken university courses in sport management, either before or after joining SO. Others said that they first got into Special Olympics because they were interested in sport first, before they knew much about the Disability Movement. The same applies to many who got in because of their IT or Marketing skills. I can imagine some [negative, critical] people saying that this makes such sport/IT-originated SO workers ill-suited to relate to Athletes. But that’s simply not true.

Everyone I’ve met in Special Olympics is very inclusive and open to the different types of individuals they meet. They’re not inclusive because they have to be, or even because they make a point of it: they are just open-minded individuals. The people in the SOO office I work at—in one way or another—relate to the Athletes, in many cases befriend them, and always consider our POV when making decisions. Those who got in through sports first do this as well: that kind of background is just as useful when trying to understand a Special Olympics Athlete, arguably just as much as having a background in psychology or neuro-science.

You have to remember: there’s more to understanding someone with an Intellectual Disability than simply reading about their condition, if you can’t relate to a person’s life experience, you can’t relate to them. Sports is something that people find common ground with, especially in Special Olympics where many times people are otherwise very different. Being a person that has a history of being interested in sports, therefore, goes a long way in relating to Athletes like me.

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Me posing with the 2017 Unified TFC Team, after our game against the Impact de Montreal.  Jane–a full time employee of SO–and Ahsan–a recurring summer student–both have backgrounds in sports.  They were also just as much a part of the team family as everybody else.  Just another way of showing how sports form bonds, including between SO employees and Athletes.

I think this is an important thing to mention: how many people working in SO got in for reasons other than any prior history with disability. Personally, I think this little factoid gels perfectly with one of the key messages that Special Olympics is trying to spread around through some of its marketing. Let me explain.

Even though Special Olympics is a well-known name—and most people understand a little about it—there are still lots of misconceptions. Some people think it’s only for Athletes with a particular, well-known disability like Down Syndrome, others think it’s only for those of a certain ability level [even though divisioning by ability level is one of reasons SO was made in the first place!], and I can’t tell you how many people get us confused with the Paralympics. Physical disability does not equal Mental disability, I don’t know why that’s so hard to understand.

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The Paralympic symbol, featuring three “agitos”, which is Latin for “I move”.  It represents both what the Paralympics calls “a spirit in motion” and how people of the world are brought together through Paralympic sport.

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The Special Olympics Logo, with 5 people representing each continent involved in SO, spread across the Earth holding hands.  It represents equality, reaching goals and making a better world than the one we had in our past.  As you can see, it and the Paralympic symbols are so close as to be nearly indistinguishable (cough cough sarcasm)

As many urban myths there are about Special Olympics, there is an equal amount—frankly, probably more—about people with disabilities in general. I think confusion between the Para and Special Olympics speaks volumes about the public awareness: it’s there, but only through short-hand understanding that lacks any form of nuance. Obviously, this is something that Special Olympics would like to change, both for its own sake, and the sake of those with Intellectual Disabilities. I personally have attended two meetings which discussed media campaigns for this very purpose; I imagine there are plenty more meetings that I did not attend with the same goal in mind.

One of the eureka moments was, in my opinion, starting Unified Sports. Having people with and without disabilities playing on the same team, against other teams like themselves, that’s huge. A stance I’ve recently taken is that an effective media campaign doesn’t rely on advertisements, TV spots or catchy slogans. If you really want to affect societal change, you have to alter how people talk, how they think. A campaign might be necessary to get that ball rolling, but if people forget about the message unless they’re being bombarded by an expensive ad campaign, than the campaign isn’t working.

That’s something that SO has decided as well. Another eureka moment was putting Unified Sports in the high school level: get people when they’re young. While the Athletes obviously were born into the Intellectually Disabled community, their Unified Partners were not. The only connection they share is going to high school and playing on the same team. These Unified Partners, the ones who join an SO team through the School Programs? They got into the SO movement, without any prior history with disability. If that can happen for students playing in the Special Olympics, why not the people who work for the organization as well?

This picture was taken at the 2017 Unified “Soccer in the Sand” tournament in Edison High School, Orange County, California.  Just like the teams I’ve been on in Toronto, this crew has clearly bonded together, Unified-style.  Image retrieved from https://www.ocregister.com/2017/04/13/three-orange-county-high-schools-vie-in-soccer-by-the-sand-special-olympics-tournament/?share=email

One of SO’s biggest goals—which Unified Sports and the School Programs have both proven to be exceptionally valuable tools in reaching—is creating what they call an “Inclusive World”. In this World, everyone would be equal, given the same opportunities and attention, regardless of ability level. That philosophy would be applied to all people, including those without disabilities, who might currently be considered “just not good enough” in much the same way that those with ID’s are sometimes thought of.

To make an “Inclusive World”, well, you have to include everybody! Not just those with disabilities, their family members, and the occasional doctor who researched brain conditions for years, but a more diverse cast of characters: a college student who wants to be a sport manager, a graduated high school jock who wants to give others the same life-affirming team experience that he had, and maybe a couple of career drifters who just sort of ended up here. That’s the Inclusive World, at least in my eyes. I think it’s a fact of the World that more people should learn about Special Olympics: that you don’t have to be born here to end up here. And everyone is welcome to stay.

 

If you want to learn more about the Special and Paralympic logos, here’s where I got my research from

1, Brand, IPC.org, retrieved 2018, Aug 10, https://www.paralympic.org/the-ipc-brand

2, The Meaning of the Special Olympics Logo, Special Olympics Ohio Greater Dayton, retrieved 2018, Aug 10, http://specialolympicsdayton.org/circle.html

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What are the Special Olympic School Programs?

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Ladies and Gentlemen: the School Programs. Image retrieved from http://www1.specialolympicsontario.com/schools/

So, this last year I’ve been enjoying a lot of what Special Olympics Ontario has to offer through School Programs. Even though I’m not in school, the new addition of university/college-level teams allows myself, and any other athletes to participate, regardless of age or education. For a while, participating in secondary school programs was my only familiarity with the School Programs, although I’ve now found out that these university/college teams are the newest and smallest parts of a much larger machine. Let me explain.

 

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Pictures of me playing on the team from Fleming University.  As usual, I’m the tall, bald guy.

This summer, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to have my first work experience as a summer student at Special Olympics Ontario [which is where I’m currently writing this]. One of the tasks I’ve been given is to write about the ever-growing school programs: how they work, why they were made and what they do for people. It’s given me a lot of insight.

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After my friend Garry retired, I started using his old office during my shifts. This is the place where I’m writing this post, and most of the other School Programs blogs as well.  Those boxes are there because I was helping sort out the inventory, and we needed somewhere to store them.

To start, I should explain the basics about Special Olympics School Programs. In terms of who runs them, Special Olympics considers School Programs to be a separate department, which means that there are staff working in the Ontario office dedicated to School Programs. Teachers, coaches and other school staff work with Special Olympics to coordinate teams and events: filling the same roles that volunteers do in more traditional programs. Teachers and coaches often work with athletes on their Special Olympics school teams, and many know each other through the regular curriculum as well. This system is designed so that Special Olympics always has time, people, and resources to continue running their traditional, all-ages programs outside of the school environment.  Having one does not subtract from the other.

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Even though the University division only had basketball, the high school teams had a range of sports to enter the School Championships with.  The intense game of bocce seen above was photographed in Peterborough, around the same time me and my guys were shooting around on the court.  Image retrieved from http://sooschoolchampionships2018.ca/

School Programs are divided into 4 groups: Sport Festivals, Intermediate, Secondary and University/College. Sport Festivals are for athletes in Kindergarten to grade 5, Intermediate is for grades 6-8, Secondary is 9-12 and University/College is for athletes coming out of high school. The Sport Festivals are currently traditional-only, while Intermediate programs and University/College programs provide Unified competition. Secondary programs offer both Traditional and Unified competition opportunities.

For those who don’t know what Traditional and Unified mean: let me give a quick rundown. Unified teams are mixed between Special Olympic Athletes and those who do not have an intellectual disability. Traditional teams are the original format of having Special Olympic Athletes compete with and against other Special Olympic Athletes.

In School Programs, both options, Traditional and Unified, place athletes with peers that are the same age, so that they play with fellow students. Outside of School Programs, athletes are much more mixed in terms of age, education and background.

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Another exciting moment in the School Champs: this picture is from the 2016 Provincial Games in Oshawa.  Image retrieved from https://www.durhamregion.com/photogallery/6706693/

I talk about age a lot, and with good reason. Not all, but many people with intellectual disabilities feel isolated in high school, or any other environment where those without disabilities are the majority. Special Olympics—and similar programs—offer safe havens, where such people can be with others who they can relate to. You can imagine how alienating it might be for a school-age athlete stuck between classmates who do not understand his/her disability, or fellow athletes who are much older than they are, probably not sharing any of the same interests as a result.

 

Such a person might feel like they didn’t truly belong in either world. Special Olympics had been searching for a way to provide school-aged athletes with new sporting opportunities, and that is why School Programs were introduced. School Programs put athletes with others who were actually their peers, in ways beyond linking people of similar age, studies or ability levels. That goes for both the Traditional and Unified Programs.

Alright, now let’s get into the age divisioning, shall we?

From kindergarten to grade 5, athletes participate in Sport Festivals. These are more focused around having fun and being introduced to sports than they are about learning skill sets and tactics. For instance, athletes in this age range are first taught to kick a soccer ball, but they aren’t immediately expected to pass or shoot on a net with it. Children are young, highly impressionable, and just starting to learn about the world around them. The whole point is to make them familiar with the concept of “kick the ball” for when they’re older and a little better functioning to be taught more complicated things. This is a good philosophy for teaching any 2-year-old child, regardless of whether that child has a disability or not.

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One of the many happy snapshots taken over the years that the School Festivals have been up and running.  Image retrieved from http://www1.specialolympicsontario.com/.

Grades 6-8 is the bracket for the intermediate programs. As athletes get older, more independent, and move on to harder classes in school, they need more challenges to be kept engaged. The simple “kick the ball” instruction for younger athletes starts to become boring, and for many of them, too easy. As such, the programs are adjusted to the ability level of these now-older athletes. Intermediate programs are newly implemented, and are used to act as a transition between sport festivals and secondary competitions, where athletes are exposed to competition at an introductory level.

Both Active Start and the FUNdamentals Programs are represented “Sport Festivals”, which are held at schools across Ontario, during one day out of every school year. They are designed to encourage healthy living in young Athletes, and to be a good resource in helping educators that want to reach this goal. As such, guidelines and other resources are available to school teachers, in case any of them wish to apply items from the School Programs into their regular classroom/normal gym sessions.

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Not the teacher’s guidelines I was talking about, but these books were designed to be given to volunteers at the School Festival to prepare them for the day. SOO is working on new booklets for this year, that are shorter and easier to read, but with just as much useful information to help out the volunteers.

Secondary programs are closer to my personal experience, because that’s the level that teams start to become competitive and move on to play in tournaments. A lot of this, from the information I’ve gathered, is Special Olympics translated into school, with a key difference being that everybody is within a certain age bracket. Speaking of the age bracket, it’s between 13 and 21. The reason for that, is because people with intellectual disabilities are given three extra years to graduate high school [most people graduate here at 17/18, things may be different outside Ontario]. Essentially, the age limit is to make sure that all members are the same age as a Special Olympics athlete who is in high school.

As mentioned before, the University/College programs are newly developed and only offer Unified competitions. The new School Programs models have become very popular in recent times: both the Sport Festivals for Athletes, and the School Championships for those students who want competition. After spreading to several different institutions at the grade-school level, these Programs have started to catch on in the post-secondary level as well. While many of the universities in question now have Unified teams, there are still Partners who go to campuses that still do not have Unified sports. Special Olympics is still reaching out to more post-secondary schools to expand these School Programs across Ontario, while more and more campuses are seeing the benefits that Unified Sports have to offer for their students. I’m glad for it: if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have been invited to the games in Columbus and Peterborough.

While there is no hard age limit in University/College Programs, there is a bit of a soft one. Currently, the Unified programs are all fairly competitive, and even when athletes are picked from an even mix of divisions, they still tend to be somewhere under 30-years-old. Partners, obviously, have to be going to a college or university; although it’s not unheard of for older people to go back to class, most of the Unified Partners I’ve met are the typical university age of early/mid-20s. Still, there are exceptions, and I know at least one Athlete who played in these programs while in their 30s.

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A picture I took from the Peterborough Games, during the Opening Ceremonies. I thought it gave a good sense of scale for the School Programs

Finally, I asked somebody I work with—Josh Budish, who is the manager of School Programs at Special Olympics Ontario—about how these programs relate to the more traditional, ageless teams that Special Olympics has to offer. He answered that, “School programs were born out of a need to address a specific gap,” pointing out how many student athletes wanted to be with their school peers, and needed a place where they could truly belong. To him, there is no cultural difference between School Championships and the regular community-level Games: the joy, excitement and emotion are all the same. Many of these athletes are first introduced to Special Olympics through School Programs, so their wonder is amplified compared to older players.

Josh also said that, “We [Special Olympics Ontario] have talked to a lot of teachers who’ve seen significant increases in the confidence of their Special Olympic athletes and the awareness of unified partners of what it’s like to be Special Olympics athletes.” He added, “It’s not seen as tokenism anymore, it’s seen as a bunch of friends playing on a sports team. Which is exactly what we want.”

 

Well, that’s the basic rundown on what the School Programs are. In short: they were made because so many athletes are school-aged people, and needed to be among peers. I’ll make more posts to cover specific topics—such as discussing the merits of Unified sports and a more in-depth look into the School Programs’ teachers—but this hopefully covers all of the bases. Nuances mean nothing without a general understanding. I’m also learning about this as I write these posts, which I’m not entirely used to, so please bear with me. Hopefully we’ll learn more about Special Olympics School Programs together.

 

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