A Message from the President & CEO: 2021 Quarter 3

From 2013 to March 2020 the investment in our program was from a wide range of supporters that transformed the lives of our athletes and helped us grow participation by 32% — up 2,145 athletes from 6,571 to 8,716. Since COVID-19 began, like everyone we have responded to significant challenges by providing extensive virtual and hybrid programming to 6,102 athletes in 2020. I am excited to share some highlights from our most recent “return to play” efforts, which have allowed our athletes back to COVID-safe in-person training and competitions. We need continued and increased financial support to recapture those athletes who were unable to participate over the last 18 months.  As you know our athletes participate free of charge, so your support is critical to sustaining current programs while also supporting new initiatives.

August Kayaking

Back in August, 58 volunteers delivered a memorable 2021 Special Olympics Maryland State Kayaking Championships for 63 athletes at Washington College, as they returned to the Chester River for the first time since 2019. Check out this short post-race video with Tiffany Richardson and Britonya Jackson who competed as a #UnifiedSports® team in the 100m sprint. Listen carefully at the end, when Britonya (who has been a Unified Sports® teammate since 2014 in soccer and basketball) shares that she really wanted to beat Bob Signor and Kurwin Simmons, III (her son). Prior to the race, I got to speak briefly with Britonya who shared how happy she was to be at the competition teaming up with Tiffany. This was Britonya and Tiffany’s first year in kayaking, and Britonya had mentioned how proud she was of herself and her teammate for making so much progress. From kayaking in circles to coordinating their strokes well enough to compete in this tandem event, this Unified Team provides a great example of perseverance and inclusion.

September Flag Football and Soccer League Play

As we moved into our Fall Sports season, our athletes returned to play in Golf, Flag Football, Soccer, Cycling, Powerlifting, Tennis, and Bowling. In addition to providing our athletes with 10 golf tournaments in advance of our state tournament On September 18th, our league play started back in Soccer and Flag Football, which brought our teams back on the field for the first time since the fall of 2019. One of our Soccer officials summed it up best on Saturday when he said, “I haven’t smiled this much in 18 months.” Inclusion experiences make you smile… they provide a sense of pride and joy in coming together as we all strive to be the best that we can be while building interactive inclusive communities of dignity and respect. Thank you to our athletes for reminding us to make every day the best day ever.

October Golf State Championship, Tennis Qualifier, and Cycling Qualifier

Our State Golf Tournament held at Queenstown Harbor Golf Course included 123 athletes, 72 Unified partners for a total of 195 competitors, plus 12 caddies. In addition to a great day of competitive golf, we are encouraged by the number of competitors which compares favorably to our last pre-COVID state tournament that had 223 competitors.

In addition to our league play in Soccer and Flag Football, our efforts extend to tennis and cycling. We conducted a State Qualifying Tennis Tournament at Towson University on October 2nd, 2021. We had a series of cycling qualifying events on October 3rd, which included 13 athletes from the Upper Shore program, they were able to compete in the 1k, 2k, 5k, and 10k races over a 1k course in Baltimore.

This fall, our Unified Champion Schools Interscholastic Unified Tennis Program is back in action throughout the state. Anne Arundel County schools got off to a great start in September with inter-school match play, which will lead to their County Championship. Top teams from their county will advance to the State Championship in November at the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park. I was able to take in the dedication ceremony of Justin Bolton Memorial Court at North County, followed by a tri-match with Severna Park and Glen Burnie high schools. The whole school was engaged in the ceremony as the band kicked off the ceremony with the national anthem and school fight song. Other sports teams turned out for the dedication before heading to their respective practices. The enthusiasm and joy were palpable, a clear indicator that reinforces that we are creating a Unified Generation through sport.

As we #ReturnToPlay, retaining, regaining, and recruiting athletes remains a primary concern and area of intense focus to ensure that our athletes get back to the sports they love. These are a few examples of the incremental success that we are experiencing as we emerge from 18 months where COVID-19 interrupted our in-person interaction while motivating a deeper resolve to ensure that individuals with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to mature, grow and socialize through sport.