By student correspondent, Jack Sague '23
Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. offers Expanded Services for students with cognitive and intellectual disabilities in order to provide those students the opportunity to receive a Catholic education in an inclusive environment. Inclusion through the Expanded Services is an integral part of the Bishop O’Connell experience, and it doesn’t stop in the classroom or in the hallways.
This past fall, the Knights’ Special Olympics soccer team embarked on a new season, full of promise and excitement. The squad included nine current students and two alumni, with a strong group of student volunteers helping coach. The team practiced every Tuesday and Thursday, honing their soccer skills, such as dribbling and passing. If anyone happened to walk by the field during a players vs. coaches scrimmage, lots of chants and cheers could be heard from the players supporting their teammates.
“The saying ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ really rings true with this team,” remarked senior Jack Masri, one of the student-coaches. “It was amazing to see all the hard work the team was putting in at practice, and how it paid off during the games. The spirit of the team was always very high, and the skill level increased every week, making for a really fun season.”
These weekly practices really did pay off on game days, when the Knights would compete against other Special Olympics teams around the area. Led by senior captain Claire Fayer, the squad attacked every game with lots of confidence and zeal.
When asked what his favorite part of the soccer season was, sophomore Yilin Smith said, “I really liked scoring lots of goals and cheering on my teammates.”
By the end of the season, the fan base for this team had grown significantly and the stands at last tournament had a supportive and enthusiastic student cheering section. The pure joy and emotion displayed by the team during games was clearly evident.
“Everyone coming together and cheering on the team was an amazing sight,” Jack added. “Students who might often be on the sidelines were given the spotlight.”
Junior team member John Paul Witter remarked, “My favorite part was playing in front of all my friends.”
After the final victory of the season, all the O’Connell students in attendance rushed the field and celebrated the big win with the players. Post-game festivities included team photos and pictures with family and friends, as well as the players receiving their “paper plate” awards for the soccer season.
The true testament to the season was how the players were celebrated for their abilities on the field rather than being known for their disabilities.
Photo below: O'Connell player Claire Fayer high-fives student-coach Keegan McGraw (photo credit - Alena Rinaldi).