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Membership Has Its Privileges

posted Wednesday March 5th, 2014


Last night was the regional competition for Special Olympics cheerleading. Sophie’s team was robbed, I tell you. Robbed.

“Tempe’s bringin’ down the house!” the announcer yelled at one point during their routine, and it was true — the entire crowd was rooting for the navy-and-white clad cheerleaders, who had the best moves of the night (no, I’m not one bit biased),  the tiniest one staying on stage a few seconds after everything was over, landing the splits, hating to abandon the limelight. Such as it was in a falling apart, fluorescent-lit rec center in a shitty part of town.

Sophie and her teammates didn’t care; they were thrilled with their silver medals (everyone goes home with either silver or gold; Mesa “beat” them) and a giant cookie. But a lot of the parents looked pissed and I had to laugh.

Ah, the injustice.

The injustice of having a kid with a disability, right? That’s what you’re thinking. That’s what I think — some days. But last night, looking around that gym (before the silver medal fiasco), I felt a strange sense of privilege. It’s an honor to attend these events. I’m sure there are back stories with much different narratives, but to a person, I didn’t see a single member of that audience last night who looked like they felt sorry for themselves. That’s got to be the point of Special Olympics, right? To give not only the participants but those who love them a sense of pride. Some dignity.

I’ve only been to a handful of Special Olympics events so far, and to be honest, the results (and I’m not speaking of Sophie’s athletic prowess) have been mixed. But last night, I got it. I got why they do it, why I do it, why Sophie does it. Looking at these family members and friends looking at their kids dressed in polyester and ribbons, yelling and dancing to the best of their abilities and yes, sometimes looking really goofy doing it, I got it. There were more moments of pure joy in that gymnasium last night than most of us gather in a lifetime.

Today is “Say the Word to End the Word” Day — an awkwardly named but well-meaning attempt to get people to ditch the world retarded for another word, respect. I’ll be spending the evening at a Special Olympics basketball game, watching Sophie and her team cheer at halftime.

Lucky me.

And as for that silver medal? Just wait for the state championships.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome by Amysilverman

One Response to “Membership Has Its Privileges”

  1. Sometimes when I go to special Olympics events with my son, I feel like part of a special secret club that only privileged parents get to go. Then other times, I don’t. . . .

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