It’s not hard to rev up the crowd when special needs kids score on the playing field.
Many people take the ability to participate in sports for granted. Even those who may be out of shape or not athletically inclined assume that, should they want to go for a run, play a pick-up game of basketball, or participate in the family Thanksgiving Day football game, they can. Not so for many children with disabilities, for whom the chance to participate in a so-called “normal” sport doesn’t come up very often.
When it does, families relish the opportunity to engage in the sheer normalcy of the act, and there are many organizations around the country that allow this sort of participation. Some organizations even create their own pep squads of special needs kids to cheer their teams on to victory!
In Myrtle Beach, there’s a program that gives kids with disabilities the chance to surf. Participants in wheelchairs are taken into shallow water, where they are helped onto a surf board, then escorted to deeper waters to wait for a wave that will carry them back to shore.
While the process is more like body-boarding or boogie-boarding than surfing, it’s still an accomplishment and a fun reference to normalcy for the participants to experience. Amy Fields, upon seeing her 12-year-old daughter participate in the activity, welled up with tears and said, “My heart is so full.”
In Washington, an ice hockey team for children with disabilities recently began its eighth season and garnered a feature story in the Washington Post, which celebrated the fact that the team not only gives children with special needs a sense of normalcy and participation, it also lets parents to come together to encourage and support “normal” activities for their children.
In Ohio, 11-year-old Murphy Vetter stands as the first special needs child to play for the Olentangy Youth Athletics Association as a free safety on the Liberty Bulldogs. As a child with both Down syndrome and autism, Murphy doesn’t engage in much physical activity (he sometimes simply drops to the ground when another player runs towards him), yet he still can count it a major victory to wear his football jersey and be out on the field with the other kids. Says his mother Tina, “What I see is normal. I never thought Murphy would ever go to a typical school, much less play football.”
In Arkansas, a boy with Asperger’s and ADHD is enrolled in karate classes, an activity that his mother says has taught him far more than self-defense; it’s given him skills such as self-discipline, good manners, and self-respect. Says mother Tricia Arnold, “We’ve seen his grades improve. We’ve seen him, you know, making more friends when he wasn’t making friends before.”
It may be comparatively rare to see children with autism, Down syndrome, who are dependent upon a wheelchair, or who have any number of other special needs compete in sports like football, ice hockey, karate, or surfing, but when they have the opportunity to do so, both they and their families have reason to cheer. See why in the video!