Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Project Unify

     During the spring of 2012 Maria came across an inspirationalarticle through our local Down Syndrome group .  It told the story of a set of triplets in Maryland.  At their high school they offered Unified Sports.  More specifically the brothers were able to compete together in Unified Bocce Ball during the winter season.  

     This gave Maria and I’s our first idea of how we could make a difference in our school system.  I went through several chains of contacts to find out more information before approaching the administration.  I called Frederick High School’s athletic director, then the Special Olympics rep for their area in Maryland. I was then passed to the Special Olympics rep for our area.  Next I went to our athletic director with the information I had come across.

     He loved the idea.  His own son had competed in the Special Olympics so he was very interested in the idea of including Unified Sports in the high school.  Our first goal was to pick a sport that would allow for great variances in ability.  We decided upon bowling.  By using the bumpers and ramps for those that needed them, ever athlete was able to experience success at some level.  The biggest problem that we ran into was trying to get partner athletes out for the sport.  We tapped into our bowling club here at the high school and they helped tremendously.  
     The experience was an interesting one in the beginning.  We had to help the partner athletes understand that they didn’t need to baby any of our athletes with challenges.  The partners weren’t there to “help” in the traditional sense of the word.  We wanted them to work together and to become peers.  By the end of the season everyone was working well together and you could see the friendships that had formed. 

     Our most recent sport is Bocce Ball and Cornhole.  We began this sport last week and are still hurting for partner athletes.  There is a core group of students that want to participate in Unified Sports but they are always in season for other sports.  This causes a conflict with schedules.  The season has begun well and the students love working together. 

    My next goal is to expand our program to other local high schools.  I would also like to get our high school more recognition in the local media for leading the way with this new program.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Game Shirts

Game for Respect

     The awareness week in October was finished off with a football game.   Here we took donations for a local organization which helps to provide job opportunities for people with intellectual or physical challenges.  We wanted the money to go somewhere local and make an immediate impact in our community.     
     I was able to get the game mentioned in the newspaper, it was in the community calendar,  it was even mentioned on the local high school football show.  The game we picked ended up being for a district championship as well.  This made us all excited about the huge crowd that would show up.    
     There were a few volunteers that sold t’shirts, had people sign the banner, and took donations.  My parents were even among this group.  Unfortunately we fell short of my donation goal.  I was hoping for over $1,000 but only raised about $400.           The reason was mainly on my shoulders. I was not aware of the toll that this event would take on me.  Trying to plan everything out on my own was not the best thing for my stress levels.  For those of you that know me, you know how high strung I am at all times.  You should be able to imagine how this event was.  I should have asked for more help from the beginning.  In my drive to make a difference I forgot that things are much easier when you ask for help.  I was actually coaching during the game so no matter what I planned beforehand I was useless during the event.  I guess I was under the idea that things would just magically work out.  I felt that everyone would feel strongly about our cause and come running to donate.  I’m not sure if it wasn’t placed properly around the field, if we didn’t give enough information, or just poor planning all around.    
   Let’s just say that next year Maria and other teachers will be in charge of a lot more. 

     As mentioned in the post a few days ago, we had a lot going on this past fall.  I had football season going on, organizing and running the R-Word campaign, organizing and running the Game for Respect, a few public speaking events, and organizing our first Project Unify season.  During all this I was leaving Maria to almost act as a single parent.  Any football coach, wife to a coach, or family member of a coach knows the time that goes into the season.  While at school I would plan these events (during my planning period only) then go to practice.  I usually made it home in time to read the girls a bedtime story.  My “early” Thursdays were nice because I also got to help with baths.  Maria is an amazing woman for all that she puts up with and does every day.  But I notice it and realize how lucky I am a little bit more during football season.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Public Speaking


     Along with the awareness week I gave a 30 minute talk during the school day.  I spoke with 8th, 9th, then 10th graders.  Our administration is understandably against whole school assemblies.  Needless to say I was nervous on Monday about what I would say and how it would go. 

     This was going to be the largest group of people I have ever spoken in front of and this time I was speaking about something very personal.  I talked about Lorelei, her experiences, and our expectations.  The session was led off by showing an r-word video produced by Special Olympics Virginia.  I then explained how fortunate our daughter is.  They were astonished when I gave the statistic that 93% of fetuses are aborted if they test positive for Down Syndrome.  Even now this stat is amazing to comprehend.  I then told of Lorelei’s surgeries and struggles.  But I was never far off from mentioning her successes and how well she is doing. 
     She would always finish the show for me by strutting her stuff onto the stage so I could hold her in my arms and wave hello.  I left each group with a final thought that Lorelei, or any other person, is not defined by having Down Syndrome.  After all it is something that she has.  It is not who she isI also wanted them to not feel bad for someone with Down Syndrome nor for Maria and I.  I wanted them to understand that she was just like them, a child growing up and learning as she goes.  It just may take her a little bit longer to learn it.
   The sessions went better and better each time.  I got more confidence and things flowed easier.  By the end of the week the administration commented that they felt it was the best and most informative sessions the students had gone to in a while.  They were even impressed at how well the students acted during the session.  This made me feel even better about it. 

     Maria will be speaking to the middle school during their awareness week and r-word campaign on March 5th.  It’ll be a younger crowd but we expect them to do just as well with the cause. 

Here are some pictures of the banners that the we and the students signed.
Both Banners

First Banner

 Second Banner


Next up: Game for Respect

The awareness week was finished off with a football game where we took donations for a local organization.  This organization helps provide job opportunities for people with intellectual or physical challenges.  Tomorrow I’ll let you know how that went.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Ideas

     This fall began a mission of Maria and I’s.  By no means is this mission our own idea nor are we leading the way. We are simply following examples set forth by other people.

     In October the high school that I work for held an awareness week for people with disabilities and a fundraiser football game that we called The Game for Respect. We also began a program called Project Unify at the high school. The middle school which Maria works at is also holding an awareness week this spring. R-Word The awareness weeks were ideas that we got from a campaign called “Spread the Word to End the Word”. I contacted our local Special Olympics representative to see how we could work together. I threw out the idea of having students sign a banner and take the pledge to stop using the “r-word”. For those that may not know we are talking about the word “retard” or “retarded”. They loved this idea so much they were willing to buy and send me 700 wristbands to give to the students when they signed the banner. So this whole campaign was completely free to myself and the school. Anyone that works in a public school system knows that free makes things A LOT easier to get accomplished.

     The week went well. I had volunteers from my Wildcat Buddies help to inform students about the banner and what it meant. The guidance department even gave me a list of all the students in the school. As students came to sign the banner they had to give us their name and we would check them off, sign, and then hand over a bracelet. Our goal was to have the entire school sign the banner. Of course we had to go searching some students out. I even went and addressed some students directly if they were against signing the banner. I simply would ask what they were against and then explain what this pledge and this word meant to me, Lorelei, and some of their fellow students. Every student that I spoke with saw that our cause was justified. We finished with only about 30 of the 750 students not signing the banner. It was a great accomplishment for our first go around. We are hoping the middle school has similar success.

     Along with the awareness week I gave a 30 minute talk during the school day. I spoke with 8th, 9th, then 10th graders seperately. Our administration is understandably against whole school assemblies. Needless to say I was nervous on Monday about what I would say and how it would go...

 To be continued ...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Well Hello There

So … apparently Maria and I have discovered that we are not destined to be professional bloggers.  Our last post was all the way back in July just as football season was fast approaching.  To catch everyone up on recent events, and some not so recent, I plan on creating several posts hitting different topics from the past months.  
To get started I’ll mention our last visit to UVA.

Back on January 25th we took Lorelei to the Kluge Center down at UVA for her meeting with Dr. Anderson.  Lorelei took a few moments to get warmed up but then performed excellent.  Our fear was that she was doing these wonderful things at home like climbing on EVERYTHING and communicating through signing but would be too shy and not show this to the doctor.  There was no disappointment on this day.  She did very well as the doctor would pull animals out of the barn and Lorelei would sign many of them.  Ofcourse she would go with “dog” on anything she wasn’t sure of but would soon hit the correct sing if she heard the word.  After about an hour with Dr. Anderson she told us that Lorelei was doing wonderful and to begin working on coordinating different ideas such as what animals say. 
Lorelei’s eyesight is also the next big step.  We are hoping to get her vision checked soon so to be sure she isn’t having troubles.  Nothing has really seemed apparent but we are just trying to be proactive. 

Let me add in the finish that Lorelei’s ability to do the things she can has been nothing but amazing to us.  She works so hard and wouldn’t be where she is without the great example set by Mikaela, the hard work and love of Maria, and the dedication and caring that Bethany has shown our two angels.  I can’t thank all of you enough.