For sports fans all over, the winter months are bustling. There are college bowl games, the Super Bowl, basketball and ice hockey games galore, and the beginning of baseball’s spring training. It is an exciting time where we often find ourselves celebrating the most promising athletes for their ability to lead their team to victory on the main stage. Yet, in the distance, and sometimes behind the scenes, there are important individuals ensuring things go smoothly that often go unnoticed. Have you ever paused to consider who these people are? Are these the individuals who were never quite good enough to make the team? Are these the individuals who are too old to play sports competitively, but still have great passion for the game? Or perhaps, are these the individuals who society has decided will never have a chance to fully engage in the beauty of competitive sports?
I recently had an experience that took me back to a lesson I learned in my youth, in this life, there is a place for everybody. No matter one’s uniqueness or difference, one’s strengths or weaknesses, one’s race or ethnicity, or one’s disability, there is something in everyone that is valuable to the world we live in. While attending a recreation league basketball game a few weeks ago, I witnessed a young man with special needs serving as one of the referees for the game. The game itself was comical, as it was the kindergarten game, but my entire heart smiled as I watched this young man go up and down the court helping to teach this set of young basketball players a bit about the game, I’m certain he loves. Some would argue this young man was not capable of completing the job assigned to him because of his disability, but he proved this to not be the case. With his whistle in hand, he gently guided this group of rookie players through their first game on the recreation league with patience and care. Not only was it incredible for me to watch, but what an amazing lesson to teach children about inclusion at such an early age.
Why does an experience of this nature bring me such joy?
It all goes back to my personal experience with disability. As a child, several of my family members worked at a small school with a big heart on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Benedictine School. This school seeks to “help children and adults with developmental disabilities achieve their greatest potential.” This school was, and continues to be, a part of our family. At a young age, I remember going to class with my mother when she taught summer school at the Benedictine. While there, I was simply another student along with Ben, Jenny (for some reason, I remember these two fondly), and the others. Together, we completed science experiments, went on field trips, and played in the pool. To the outsider, we may have looked different but in our hearts, we were just a bunch of kids having fun together at school. Our paths went in different directions, but those lessons in my early years opened my heart to those who are different, and far too often marginalized. In some ways, I became an ally before I even knew what being an ally meant. Whether at work or home, for me, there is and will always be a place for everyone.
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