The Lansing Spartans, a Special Olympics Michigan softball team, received a special tribute ceremony at the Lansing City Council meeting on Oct. 8 for their performance in a national tournament. The team, comprised of high school students both with and without intellectual disabilities from Lansing Eastern and Lansing Everett, won the gold medal at the 2013 Special Olympics North America Softball Invitational.
All members of the team, as well as its coaches, received a certificate recognizing their accomplishments and shook hands with the members of city council. Councilmember Jody Washington handed out the certificates “We really want to thank all of you for being such great ambassadors for our city, and thank you so much coaches for taking the time to coach such a great group of kids,” she said.
The team’s coaches praised the dedication and attitude of the young athletes.
“These young men and women are a phenomenal group,”said Coach Mark Hayes. “It was my best trip that I’ve made with athletes in the 10 year I’ve been doing this. They represented Lansing and they represented Michigan well. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The tournament was held in West Windsor Township, N.J. from Aug. 23-25. It consisted of 24 teams from all over North America, including Florida, Maine, New York, Texas, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Lansing Spartans played in Division 3, where they captured the gold medal by defeating the Florida team 12-5 in the final game. The Spartans were one of the few teams in the tournament to use a Special Olympics pitcher for all six games they played, making their feat even more impressive.
Head Coach Glenn Lopez praised the determination and drive that his team displayed at the tournament. “The determination, the focus and the get-go of these guys and girls right here was tremendous in New Jersey. You have two of them that are deaf, yet they were out there making plays and playing hard,” he said.
While the tournament may be over, the lessons and experiences gained from the opportunity will be permanent, says the coaches.
“We had six athletes and six general ed. partners and we practiced all summer long together and had this opportunity of a lifetime to go to New Jersey and form friendships and understanding,” Coach Amy Robinson said,” and now they are taking it back to school with them and making it a more inclusive and friendly environment for students with disabilities.”
Lopez echoes this sentiment, saying that the team’s performance at the tournament proves just what the athletes are capable of on and off the field.
“If you put determination to what you are doing it, it will work,” says Lopez. “If we can put that into academics, we wouldn’t have too many problems academically.”
The Lansing Spartans are part of the Special Olympics Michigan Unified program, which combines athletes with intellectual disabilities with athletes without any disabilities, to form teams that train and compete together just like any other athletic team. The program began in the 1980s and today has an estimated 50,000 participants worldwide. All Special Olympics’ sports are now incorporated into the Unified program as well, including such sports as basketball, poly hockey, cycling and golf.