Column: Special Olympians Refreshing in Current Sports Era
I was speaking with a colleague the other day about various events we have covered over the years. While some, like playoff games for instance, bring with them an expectation of something big happening, others turn out to feature something you may not have expected going in. Something special happens.
I recalled seeing both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa club home runs in person in 1998, the year both players eclipsed Roger Maris's magical number 61 for round trippers. Three years later, I just happened to be on hand to see a Barry Bonds blast. He would finish that campaign with a record setting 73 home runs.
My colleague talked about attending a Dodger game while on vacation with his family. This otherwise ordinary May evening in 2010 turned out to be the night Roy Halladay twirled a perfect game, leading his Phillies over Los Angeles.
Right place. Right time.
Over the years I've been fortunate enough to witness numerous historic, dramatic events. I've met Hall of Famers. I've watched champions being crowned. When it comes to the truly special though, nothing compares to what I had the opportunity to cover earlier this year.
While announcing a double-header a few weeks ago I had the privilege to introduce some athletes in between games. None of them will ever be in the Major Leagues. None will make millions on the athletic field. But, all of them moved me more than any player or team ever could.
The athletes were participants in the Special Olympics New Jersey Summer Games. I introduced them during their opening ceremonies. These ceremonies included a parade of talented athletes, plenty of cheering, and the lighting of a torch. It was almost like an ordinary Olympics opening ceremony, but these athletes are anything but ordinary.
Their passion, pride, drive, and determination is extraordinary to say the least. The joy on their faces was authentic as could be. Their love of the game as pure as humanly possible. These athletes are gifts from God and my chance to play a small role in their big night was truly a gift as well.
The young man who got to light the torch this year did so because his dad, a police officer, helped to raise more money for the Special Olympics than anyone else. True commitment. Real heroes.
The introductions went off without a hitch and the torch was lit with no problem. Over the next few days these boys and girls competed in a host of sports. Medals were handed out and dreams were fulfilled. New Jersey will host the national games next year so special athletes from all over the nation will descend on the Garden State. The success of the state program indicates they will be able to handle it with flying colors. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to see even more of these incredible kids.
In this day and age when steroids, autograph scandals, contract disputes, and off field violence dominate the headlines, Special Olympians provide a welcomed reminder of what sports is supposed to be about. While the media and our out-of-touch politicians continue to tell us to treat Jason Collins as a hero, I'll take solace in knowing who the real heroes are. I called their names. I saw them. They're special.