Making of a friendly match

The Maple Ridge Special Olympics team and its Mission counterpart, played an exhibition game in Pitt Meadows on Saturday.

Nathan Baerg of the WCAGFC

Nathan Baerg of the WCAGFC

A soccer game in Pitt Meadows last weekend was special for several reasons.

It was so because without sponsorship from the West Coast Auto Group Football Club, the game would never have taken place.

It was so because it was just the Maple Ridge Special Olympics soccer team’s second game of the year, and the players got their own uniforms.

And it was more so because the players on both sides exhibited the spirit of what WCAGFC president Dan Mikolay says the game is all about – smiling, laughing, working hard.

“Yes, that is what soccer is supposed to be.”

Last Saturday, the local soccer club sponsored a game, for the first time, between the Maple Ridge Special Olympics team and its Mission counterpart, to help the latter prepare for the world championships next year in Los Angeles.

The Mission team is really good, Mikolay said.

“It was a great way for them to get some extra training.”

No one kept score. Mikolay ran the flags. One player asked his mother, across the field on the sidelines, why he should chase the ball? Because it’s part of the game, she replied.

So he chased it.

The Maple Ridge team didn’t have a goalie, so a Mission player filled in.

Parents cheered.

“It was mainly about fun,” Mikolay added.

“It went really well.”

But there are few opportunities for Special Olympics teams to play one another, mostly because of costs.

The Maple Ridge group, for example, has to pay for field time. It needs supplies to line the field. It doesn’t have any soccer posts, or flags. Just cones. It didn’t have uniforms before the WCAGFC donated some.

It’s difficult enough to find enough volunteers to help on the field to keep a Special Olympics game going.

Some players have challenges, such as mobility, and need one-on-one support, said Preet Dhesi, president of the local chapter of Special Olympics.

So to have sponsorship from the local soccer club, which provided all the equipment and covered the costs – from the field to the referees – meant a lot to the Special Olympics teams involved.

Everyone was grateful, said Dhesi.

He has coached club soccer before and knows that sometimes not all the players want to be there.

But with Special Olympics, all the players do.

“The attention they get is great, to have friends and socialize, they are happy to be there.”

Special Olympics teams from Maple Ridge, Mission, Langley and Surrey usually play each other in a tournament once a year.

Other than that, the Maple Ridge group practices and scrimmages at Alexander Robinson elementary once a week from March to July.

The group is open to players eight and older. The eldest current member is 55.

Special Olympics needs a volunteer-to-player ratio of at least 5:1 just to play.

Last year, a Grade 12 player from Pitt Meadows, Brie Millie – last year’s Lynn Papp award winner – volunteered with Special Olympics, helping the players go through drills to improve their skills.

Mikolay is looking for more such players within the club, of high school age, to continue on and help the Special Olympics group, to develop skill and foster relationships – keep the fun going.

The soccer club also plans to continue its sponsorship of Special Olympics, providing equipment and field time so the group can play more games, and practice more; so it can grow.

“That is our goal,” Mikolay said.

To volunteer with Special Olympics, contact volunteer.specialo@gmail.com.