Friday, July 8, 2011


With the games over, the team home, and the blog updated, it's now time to close this blog. Many thanks to the visitors who have been following us here, and to and St. Mary's College for linking to us. The guys were constantly impressed by the steadily growing number of hits...about 150 per day! It was just more evidence that indicated the importance of what we were doing. So, again, thanks!

And what we were doing was important in several ways.

First, as the first American soccer team to win gold at the Special Olympics, we have raised the profile of the sport within Team USA, hopefully urging the organization to field not just 5v5, but 7v7 and maybe even an 11v11 unified team at the next world games in 2015.

Second, in winning and attracting attention from readers like you, as well as media outlets around the world, we have contributed to the Special Olympics message about mentally challenged individuals. That message emphasizes the ABILITIES of challenged individuals, rather than focusing on their "disabilities." Indeed, the members of Team USA are not "handicapped" any more than so-called "normal" or "fully-functioning" individuals. We all have different abilities, and this team's members have a wealth of them -- an extraordinary sense of hope, a willingness to commit and learn and adjust, and most powerfully, a yearning to seek and enjoy happiness. These attributes are not evaluated in an IQ test. But they should be, because these skills hold the keys to improving and enjoying life. So, in the important areas of hard work and pursuing happiness, we can all learn a thing or two from Team USA.

Finally, while this team has taught others a few lessons, the guys also have learned a couple of lessons of their own. Mostly about staying positive in the face of challenges. Whether those challenges are on the soccer field, in the form of an unsatisfactory lunch, or a 24-hour travel schedule, the team has learned that staying positive is the key to overcoming difficulties. Simply put, these World Games were not organized well. But the team's success came largely from the guys' ability to look past daily nuisances and make the best of the situation. Eunice Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, always emphasized that the Games were not the end goal of participation. Rather, athletes needed to apply what learned from competition in their daily lives. In the end, the challenges at these games have prepared the guys to do just that, by presenting them with difficulties beyond the field of play. Whether at school, at work, or in daily interaction with other people, the team now knows that keeping positive will reduce frustration and bring out their best...and we know that their best is golden.

Congratulations to the team, and here's to a golden future!

It was a long road, but the journey was worthwhile in every way.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bringing It Home

Apologies for the delay, but here is a recap of the team's final day in Greece:

We had hoped to visit the National Archaeological Museum, home to one of the five most valuable collections on the face of the planet:
The Mask of Agamemnon (ca. 2100 BC), perhaps the most famous item in the collection
But, sadly, it turns out that the museum is closed on Mondays. As an alternative, we hit the beachside resort of Glyfada, which is sort of like Athens' version of Ocean City. There's a beach:

...although the part we used was not connected to a particular club or management group, so it was small and pretty basic. Those of us who didn't want sun and surf strolled the main street of stores:

An organic honey stall in Glyfada...Greece is known for its honey, and these shops are all over the place!
This is no Plaka. The stores are European and American clothing chains: Timberland, Nautica, and Guess, plus their Euro look-a-likes. Nobody bought anything, and after watching some soccer highlights at a coffee bar, we all convened for lunch. Perhaps the location for lunch was an indication that everyone was ready to head home:

After lunch, we returned to the hotel to pack. The team was given another 24-hour travel itinerary for its return to the states:
-leave hotel at 5:45 for closing ceremonies
-closing ceremonies from 8:30-11:00
-bus back to hotel from 11:30-12:30
-leave hotel for airport at 2:30
-flights home, arriving about 2:30pm Baltimore time

Since there were only two hours allotted for sleep, the team wanted to maximize that by packing before heading to the closing event. Then we were off to the last big party of the World Games, and what a party it was! Despite only receiving a banana for dinner, the guys enjoyed the clothes trading

the Greek pop music:

and the retelling of Greek history (so, we sort of got the museum lesson anyway!):
It's the Trojan Horse! (How will it do if we build a large wooden badger?)
and the spectacle of officially ending the games:
The parade of athletes leaving, amidst clothes-trading and smiles!
After the ceremony, the squad said goodbye to Coach Ken, who headed off on travel (he's writing this from an airport in Cyprus). Meanwhile, by now, the team is home, enjoying the comfort of their own beds, their own food, and, of course, the warm welcome from friends and family who must be thrilled to have the guys back...with gold medals around their necks!

Please check back tomorrow for extra pictures and final thoughts that will conclude the blog.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy 4th!

fireworks as the Olympic flame is extinguished
Happy 4th of July! The guys had fireworks, too. But they marked the end of the games, not the birth of the country! Please check back tomorrow for a complete post about the closing ceremonies, and check back on the 6th for some final thoughts. Currently, the guys are on their way home, expected to arrive in Baltimore sometime mid-afternoon on the 5th. They can't wait to share their gold medals and memories with families and friends!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Handling the Hardware

The team spent today at the Awards Ceremony, a somewhat bizarre 4-hour parade of bronze, silver, and gold medals from each of the levels in 5-on-5, 7-on-7, and 11-on-11 soccer. The whole event lasted over six hours!
Team USA enthusiastically waiting to get their medals...along with a few hundred others
Unfortunately, the number of medals that had to be distributed meant that some of the anticipated pomp was missing: no flag raising and no national anthem. But the guys still looked great on the podium!

Then it was time to take pictures with the hard-earned hardware:
The obligatory photo with Special Olympics officials
An artistic picture of gold...courtesy of Connie Thompson
A close-up of the medal
Coach Ken with goalkeeper Alan Hill and his medal...coaches don't get medals, so this is as close as Ken will get!
In the evening, the guys repaid the gymnastics team for their incredible support at the gold medal match by visiting their "gym show," their closing event, which included performances by medal winners, including these Americans!
Lee Shannon finished her beam routine with a back-handspring dismount! Then she acknowledged the standing ovation!
Several rhythmic teams, including the Greek National Team, performed as well
In fact, these games have been remarkably successful for Team USA, and not just in soccer. USA won gold in EVERY team sport we entered: Basketball, Softball, Soccer, and Volleyball. Way to go USA!

Tomorrow, the team will head to the beach resort of Glyfada in the morning, before returning to the hotel to prepare for the closing ceremonies. It's been an epic two-week extravaganza, nine months of concentrated training, and nine years of playing together, and only a massive party with 7,000 other athletes from over 100 countries would be appropriate.

Please be sure to check the Extra Photos page for more pics from last night's victory celebration!
How could we leave out Alan Hill's celebratory plunge!