My first sports event was when as a five year old I saw the Baltimore Orioles in their 1954 debut. I have been a sports fan ever since. My recall of hundreds of games is a bit of a blurred continuum. Mostly I can recall great dramatic moments.
Of all these experiences perhaps the most significant was witnessing the Special Olympics. Thismost benign competition was started by Eunice and the irrepressible Sargent Shriver. Participants are athletes of all ages with mental disabilities. My first time was in Florida. I went warily, thinking that it might be sad and disturbing.
Those concerns were immediately blown away by the unselfconscious exuberance I saw. There was joy in simply participating and joy in sharing and caring for teammates. It was so much fun and I, an ever-frustrated athlete, should have learned from these athletes’ lack of ego concerns.
My next experience was at Albemarle High School. My daughter, 3, came with me on her first date. To start things off with a flourish, the UVA pep band came in playing the Olympic theme with the proud athletes marching behind. The competitions, mostly basketball-oriented, were spirited and free-form. We had many smiles and laughs.
For the final ceremony, Howie Long, that good-hearted showboat NFL Hall of Famer, gave a talk. He said that he’d been in Super Bowls and with great athletes, "but you are greatest athletes I have known." Sounded corny, but I think that he meant it. He was talking about the heart and caring shown. Remembering that talk still gets to me. In the following weeks, some of the athletes recognized me at the library and remembered that my daughter was with me.
If you go to a Special Olympics, you will be entertained, moved, and be given a humbling perspective on the role of play in our lives.