Just a few miles down the road from their Detroit homes, history was made for a group of students from the Drew Transition Center. The athletes made their debut in the Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) 2023 State Fall Games Soccer Finals at Independence Park in Canton, Michigan. While soccer has been a SOMI staple and made countless champions on the pitch in the ten-year history of Fall Games, it was a first for Area 26’s “Drew Crew”.
“We came to have fun,” said Javion Watson, Area 26 athlete. “I really like it.” And last Saturday that interest showed on the pitch.
Interest in the sport piqued more than a year ago, watching world-class athletes from around the globe participate in the Special Olympics Unified Cup Detroit 2022. The week-long tournament – modeled after the FIFA World Cup – brought two dozen soccer teams to the Motor City from just as many countries. The Unified teams showcased the power sport has, to entertain, generate joy, and bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities (ID).
“Most of the athletes on our team also played in the Unified Tournament at the Unified Cup,” said Michelle Osborne, new Area Director for Detroit and physical education teacher at the Drew Transition Center. “It encouraged them, inspired them, they were ready to do more – more soccer.”
While their roles in August 2022 were largely to host international teams during the Unified Cup and showcasing what the city of Detroit has to offer, Area 26 athletes found themselves able to participate as well – part of a Unified Sports Soccer Clinic.
After taking to the pitch for the time, there was no turning back. A soccer team quickly formed – affectionally known as “the Drew Crew” – eager to learn more about the world’s most popular sport. “We came to have fun. I really like it,” said Watson. “I like teamwork, I like winning.”
Fast forward to September of 2023, the team found themselves on the field participating at the state level with dozens of other teams.
“They’re loving it,” Osborne said while at Fall Games. “You know the power of a team. Special Olympics gives them the opportunity to share their abilities rather than disabilities.” This milestone was a major accomplishment in and of itself. What happened next… no one saw coming.
“We all came to play,” Demond Moore, Area 26 athlete. “I played defense and goalie. It’s just a fun atmosphere.”
It was goal after goal for the newcomers during the day-long soccer tournament, landing them the gold medal. While the day ended with the team on top, the experience was part of a larger teaching moment to be willing to take on something new.
“I just hope they take away confidence in their abilities,” Osborne said with a smile.
Through experiences on and off the field and the support from educators like Osborne, the Detroit team has learned not to settle. For them – the sky is the limit, one that doesn’t stop at soccer.
“When I grow up, I want to be a professional basketball player,” said Moore, on what his future holds. “My goal is to go to college,” Moore said.
The Drew Crew is led by coaches Katie Swart, Alexa Bean, and Sandra Berry.
More than 700 athletes participated in soccer, kayaking, cycling, and golf competitions as part of the 2023 State Fall Games presented by the Real Estate One Charitable Foundation. Photos from the 2-day event are available here. Special Olympics Michigan offers free year-round sports competitions, health screenings, and leadership opportunities for more than 23,000 athletes. To learn more, or get involved, visit www.somi.org.