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BHMA & Special Olympics: Inclusion Through Athletics

Image of Mary Westgate, wearing her green BHMA Kingpins polo shirt, poses with her gold medal around her neck; she is pictured with two other medal winners and six other volunteers.

After a stellar performance at AMF Auburn Lanes, standout bowler Mary has just received her gold medal, and a wide smile radiates from her face. Mary is one of few blind bowlers to compete in the Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) Winter Games, and she recorded the highest score in her division. According to Residential Advisor and SOMA Coordinator Joe Guvendiren, Mary worked with BHMA staff member Olivia one-on-one throughout the season to build their rapport. Together they developed the proper language to guide Mary’s aim and master the use of an assistive ramp, and their thoughtful preparation produced great results. It is triumphs like Mary’s that underscore the importance of the Special Olympics, and of giving people with disabilities the space to thrive in different areas of life, such as athletics. Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, the Special Olympics “is a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability.” In tandem with the Massachusetts tournament is the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, broadcast fully on ESPN for the first time.

Image of the twelve-member BHMA Buzzer Beaters team posing with their ribbons after competing in the SOMA Winter Games tournament.

The Winter Games marked the end of a strong season. Together the Buzzer Beaters and Kingpins, BHMA’s basketball and bowling teams, had thirty-seven student representatives. Both teams had busy seasons leading up to the final tournament with weekly practices and qualifying rounds that helped to determine their divisional placement. The basketball team placed second in the qualifier and was automatically advanced to the Winter Games. Though the Buzzer Beaters did not notch any wins in the finals, their time at the tournament was not without victories along the way. True to the team’s name, first-year student Otto hit a buzzer beater shot at the end of a game, and as Guvendiren points out, “just to be at the final tournament is a big accomplishment.” Unlike basketball, bowling is considered an individual sport, as each bowler’s scores are his or her own. Impressively, all of the BHMA Kingpins qualified or were invited to the finals, and thus were among the top 300 bowlers in the state. In addition to Mary, students Emily and Andrea received gold medals for their bowling performances as well. The medal count also included five silver, four bronze, and nine ribbons to round out the competition. The Winter Games weekend also featured a stay in a hotel and a dance, and thus a good amount of independence and fun.

Image of six members of the BHMA Kingpins team posing together in their uniforms at the bowling alley; four members hold bowling balls in their hands.

For BHMA students, it is a special experience to be involved in the SOMA Winter Games. Playing sports is not something people with disabilities have always had the opportunity to do, but Special Olympics allows them to engage in athletics in an inclusive environment. When asked about the impact of participating in SOMA, Guvendiren spoke about how competition is transformative, and works to bring out a different side of students. It gives them the chance to express themselves in a more physical way than music does, and it also allows them to learn key lessons about sportsmanship. Students get to experience together what it means to win and to lose, as well as how to be gracious in victory and defeat. Fundamentally, however, the Special Olympics are not about winning or losing, but about being there and being immersed in a community that promotes acceptance. Through SOMA, our students are part of an international movement that values them and their abilities, and that is perhaps the biggest victory of all.


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