Special athletes make a mark on our hearts
Stepping foot onto the field at Fredericksburg High School Stadium on Friday gave me a good feeling. No, the Battlin’ Billies weren’t gearing up for another football game, but most of the coaches were there. I wasn’t watching FHS’s top athletes, though a lot of those were volunteering to help with this event.
This was for the Battlin’ Billie Challenge, a Special Olympics competition which brought in these amazing athletes from 10 area schools for competition, smiles, encouragement and lots of pats on the back. It was a spotlight for these young students and their families who have to deal with daily issues and hardships related to their development that most of us can’t fathom.
“This is the best thing we do all year,” FISD Athletic Director Lance Moffett said. I agreed, even though FISD does lots of great things on the fields and in the classrooms.
I tried to say hello to Coach Billy Wilder but was choking up and couldn’t get out the words after I saw him giving a high five and a hug to a special athlete — a young man from Bandera who won second place in his competition. Coach Wilder acted like the boy was one of his stud linebackers who had just made a game-saving tackle. This boy beamed and grinned from ear to ear. It was a moment of solid, pure joy to be simply recognized for his competition. It’s just another usually unrecognized way this coach and the many teacher volunteers make a big difference in students’ lives.
I saw Cindy Gallagher handing out ribbons and high-fiving athletes in wheelchairs and on walkers. She remarked it is one of the best days of her year.
I choked up when I saw this scene because my mother has led a special needs Sunday school class at my home church for about 40 years or so. She also served on the local association which caters to these good people, who grow to be wonderful adults, but whose mental development never catches up beyond that of a young child.
Some Sundays when I am in my hometown, I’ll go pick up one or two of my mother’s “All Star” class students. It’s always a treat, more for me than for them. One man, now in his 60s, still has a child’s enthusiasm for going to Sunday school. He asks the same questions every week, whether it is my mother or another person driving him: “How are you, Miss Peggy?” he’ll ask my mom. Or “What are we gonna do with your wife?” he’ll joke with me.
For those of us whose lives sometimes keep us too busy for our own good, for those days when we feel like we’re on an adult hamster wheel full of job responsibilities, and for the non-fun parts of being an adult, stepping onto a field of Special Olympics athletes can give us that kind of perspective we so often push to the back of the line.
Would that we had more days like this and fewer dealing exclusively with to-do lists, phonecalls and emails and, for us, interviews to conduct and stories to write. Not that we don’t love and appreciate our jobs, but we so rarely pause and reflect how fortunate we are.
Days like Friday put things in perspective in a way few other things can. When we step out onto that field to watch those with disabilities work to overcome them, it makes us count our blessings for what we totally take for granted, and it helps us to give thanks for the simple joys these enthusiastic athletes can give us.