There is no better way to bond than sweating together on the same pitch for the same cause. On Feb. 27, SAS service club Special Soccer invited the Singapore Special Olympics soccer team to play a friendly game of soccer in the hopes of providing a platform for interaction between Special Olympics athletes and Special Soccer members and to give the Singapore Special Olympics soccer team some game experience.
Special Olympics Singapore was founded in April 1983, and since then has formed programs for various sports including soccer, badminton, and track and field. The organization promotes sports for intellectually disabled children and adults to give them opportunities to develop fitness, experience joy with family, fellow athletes, and the community. Participants have an IQ lower than 75, significant limitations in two or more adaptive skill areas, and have had the intellectual disability before the age of 18.
The organization is mainly volunteer run – all the coaches and side helpers for each sport who facilitate trainings and events are all volunteer enthusiasts. This is important because it means the organization is run by those who are passionate in the sport, serving the community, or both. And this is where SAS service clubs get involved.
For the past four years, Special Soccer, a service club founded in 2013, has partnered with the Singapore Special Olympics team. Club members join the Singapore Special Olympics soccer team every week to aid mentally handicapped people play soccer. Since its founding, Special Soccer has hosted four successful friendly games at SAS and have gained a strong relationship with the players, coaches, and the people of Special Olympics. This year’s event was facilitated by Digital Frontiers and Photo Club, who took video footage and action shots of the game.
The game on Feb. 27 ended 8-2 to SAS, but what matters more than the scoreboard is the opportunity to build relationships.
During the game, Special Olympics athletes and Special Soccer club members engaged in friendly side talk, conversing about their favorite teams, and how they fared in last weekend’s games.
After the game, athletes and members gathered to eat pizza and interact with each other. They continued talking about soccer, but the talk expanded to more personal topics and exchanging jokes.
“The game is an excellent opportunity to bring in new members while enjoying the sport in its full potential. Honestly, I cannot think of a better experience as a soccer player. Playing in games with the Special Olympics team blends my passion of soccer with service and is a win-win scenario for all participants,” vice president and junior Alex Cuozzo said.
The game provided stimuli for interaction through soccer and food that could eliminate any sort of barriers including language, age, race, and intellect. After playing together, SAS students and Special Olympics soccer players focused not on their differences, but instead on their common love for soccer.
Vice President and junior Jack Luba said, “Special Olympics allows me to connect with people that perhaps aren’t the most lucky members of society. Their happiness of seeing the volunteers really touches my spirit and overall makes me appreciate and love being with the team.”
It’s clear that this event has a positive impact on the SAS and the Singapore community. The club demonstrates that you can use your passions to help others.
Digital Frontiers co-president and junior Austin Lee described Special Soccer club as “an enthusiastic group who love what they do and have found a way to meaningfully impact the local community.”
Huang Yuchi is a member of the local community in addition to a passionate volunteer. A teacher in ITE College West, Yuchi is also the coach of the Special Olympics soccer team called Special Lions.
“The partnership between Special Olympics Singapore and Singapore American School has been fruitful, where the football athletes have the opportunity to develop life skills while improving their playing ability,” Mr. Yuchi said. “I have witnessed many athletes develop values such as respect, converse well with their peers, and building new friendships. I am thankful for this tie-up with Singapore American School, and may the good times keep rolling!”
Ivan Chua is a friendly member of Special Olympics who has bonded with several SAS Special Soccer members. He has been a regular face in training for three years and said he likes Special Olympics and Special Soccer members “because they help [him] find happiness.”
Active member and junior Sae Jin Jang explains that the process of building relationships is not the easiest, despite the given platform to do so. He recalls a Special Olympics event in which he was put into a team of four Special Olympics athletes and himself. He said he “would try to open a conversation by referring to last night’s match, or asking about their favorite soccer teams, but maintaining a conversation was difficult,” as most players would reply in short, shy answers.
However, as the event carried on, Sae Jin and his teammates “encouraged, communicated, and cheered each other, regardless of a win or loss.” Working altogether for a common goal, Sae Jin finally got close to Special Olympics athletes, including Ivan. After this experience, Sae Jin feels that he can build genuine relationships with anyone on the pitch.
“Special soccer is indeed a special club. I’ve seen it grow since I have been part of ESC last year. It’s one of the rare clubs that go above and beyond the average service clubs; it is always active and constantly thinking of innovative ways to improve its community service,” Justin Choi, Executive Service Council member said.
And the club has no intention of plateauing in its development. There is always room for improvement. Sae Jin Jang suggests that the club try mixing up activities, perhaps through a Fifa tournament or a movie session with the athletes, so that club members and Special Olympics athletes can have a variety of ways to get to know each other.
There are also further challenges ahead, including a need for a change in sponsor as current sponsor Mr. Stanweins is leaving. There is also a relative lack of underclassmen members to take on leadership roles following the graduation of current officers and founders.
“Overall, I would say that Special Soccer has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. We are all united by the beautiful game,” Alex concluded.