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Special Olympics

Shriver’s Dream Evident in Grafton Special Olympians

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Upon her passing August 11th, politicians and celebrities from around the world came to Hyannis to pay their respects to Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But there was also another group who came to say their goodbyes. A team of Special Olympians, holding torches, gave light to the pallbearers as they carried the coffin of the Special Olympics founder to Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that every child, regardless of ability, deserves to live in a neighborhood, attend school with other children, and play any sport of their choosing. The Special Olympics honor guard represented the thousands of families, whose lives have been touched by her dream of a more welcoming world.

Watching the joy and smiles on the faces of the Grafton Special Olympics children playing softball on the field at Grafton High School this summer, it is clear that her dream remains alive. For the past six Sundays, these kids, along with their fans and coaches Phil Jackson and Wendy Watkins, have come here to play softball.

Special Olympics is about more than winning and losing, it is about courage and sharing and finding commonality. The kids who participate in the Grafton Special Olympics not only gain physical fitness, they have a chance to do something that many children take for granted.

Just about everyone can learn something from the Special Olympics; things like everyone has something to offer, and never to give up no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. Maybe most importantly we can learn that we can accomplish a whole lot more working together than we can going it alone. We are a community and we all belong.

But I don’t think any of the athletes playing on the field at Grafton High were thinking about these things. They were just there to have fun. The softball season ended this past Sunday with a well-deserved ice cream party at Swirls & Scoops, who donated the ice cream.

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Play Ball!

Growing up, I was a tomboy. I loved sports, especially baseball. I hate to brag but honestly, I was a better ball player than most of the boys in my neighborhood. Every spring when the little league had it’s parade and the baseball season started, I was so jealous of the boys, because back then girls were not allowed to play baseball. All I could do was watch the games from the bleachers.

As I got older, I did play some girls softball in school and even made the varsity team in my first year of High School. But it wasn’t the same and it was short-lived, since I had to get a job and could no longer play after-school sports.

Years later, when I found out I was pregnant, I was hoping for a boy, so that I could teach him how to play baseball and maybe I would even coach little league. Even if I had a girl, that would be fine too, at least she would be allowed to play, if she wanted to. When I found out I was having twin boys, I was thrilled! Surely one of them would like baseball.

Well, things didn’t work out the way I’d planned. Aaron has absolutely no interest in sports of any kind. I think Eric would have liked sports, but that didn’t work out quite the way I expected either. Eric knows nothing about baseball, but rather than teaching him how to play, he taught me that it’s not whether you win or lose or how you play the game, it’s having fun that counts:-)

Grafton Special Olympics
Grafton Special Olympics
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Obama’s Special Olympics Gaffe

Ouch!

So, the news and blogesphere is buzzing about Obama’s bad joke on the Tonight Show.  First, I do think the issue is getting blown way out of proportion.   Part of the reason might be because this is the first stupid thing I’ve heard Obama say since his presidential campaign kicked off.   But, did it have to hit so close to home?  I would think a member of a minority would be extra sensitive to the issues of other minorities.  I would also think that just the words “Special Olympics” would be used with caution by a politician.

Being a disability advocate for my children, I feel I should post something about this comment by the President.  It was obvious that the President was poking fun at himself, but unfortunately by comparing himself to the Special Olympics, he unintentionally made fun of the special olympiads as well.  A very unfortunate blunder, but hopefully this can be a learning experience for Obama as well as the general public.

When I first saw the above clip, I posted a tweet, which went to my facebook wall (below is the message).  This tweet easily broke my comment record and still counting.

“Cynthia Bissell is wondering what the disability community thinks of Obama’s Special Olympics comment. I’m thinking, Oh well, he’s not perfect after all…”

Here are some of the comments from FaceBook Friends:

“I think it’s pretty shitty. Not cool.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t mean spirited, just ignorant. Growing up I used to use the term “retarded” all the time, never really thinking about it until I realized what a lot of people with children with special needs felt. I was being very poopy and it never occurred to me. :(“

“He’s going to have to do something REAL special for them now that’s for sure!!”

“I agree. He’s not perfect. He was making a joke about himself. He did not intend to hurt anyone. I think the media tends to blow things out of proportion too often.”

“I understand he called the head of the special olympics immediately after the show- it was a stupid remark by a man we think is perfect, who is human after all! The difference for me is he takes responsability and puts himself in real situations where real people can see the best and the ongoing struggle to be the best.”

“We all say things sometimes without having enough time to think. That only makes human.”

“that’s too bad he used that analogy … highly inaccurate assumption about special olympians and bowling! there are MUCH larger fish to fry tho so I guess we’ll forgive him.

“I was pretty upset to see 1) Obama say that and 2) Jay Leno laugh and 3) the audience laugh. It’s really a good glimpse at how far we have to go. What was so funny? I’ve seen and been involved with SO and the athletes are NOT funny and NOT bad bowlers either. I hope something good comes of this, I was really surprised to see Obama do that, really disappointed.”

“I also hope that some good comes out of it. It was shocking to me, I know it may not seem like a big deal to some but all I can say is WHAT WAS HE THINKING?????? Jeez. And I like Obama!”

“My thoughts are, maybe this will help shed some much needed media light on Special Olympics, and really, economy is going to hell in a hand basket (not sure who’s) so media should move on!!”

“…you know my involvement with Special Olympics … I’m VERY sensitive to that kinda of language misuse when it comes to special needs. One can only hope that some good will come out of this.”

Addendum 3/21/09, best reply yet from Michelle:

“Obama’s comment just underscores how pervasive discrimination against mentally disabled people is in our society; most people will still consider the “r word” socially acceptable when it’s really just as bad as the “n word”. But inviting Special Olympians to the White House for a bowling lesson, while it may be good PR, won’t do a thing to fix the problem. I’d like to see them hire a mentally disabled person to work in the White House. Not only would Obama be setting a good example for businesses, he’d make a real, concrete change in someone’s life.”

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