Game's only score excites Special Olympian
Early on in a soccer game Sunday at the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games, Stewart Page decided to launch a long shot from the left wing.
He took a couple steps to approach the shot and whipped in a bullet. The ball bulged in the back of the net, the only score in Grand Junction Fire FC White’s 1-0 win over the Blue Dragons, a team from Colorado Springs, during a match at Colorado Mesa University.
Page put his arms out like a plane, soaring up the sideline to celebrate his goal as his teammates congratulated him. Page said he had a mixture of excitement and sadness. He was playing soccer again for the first time in years, something the 24-year-old said was fun.
A fiery competitor, he buzzed around the field the entire game, probing for openings and challenging for the ball whenever he got the chance. But he was also thinking of his friend, Jordan Jones, who died from testicular cancer only a few years ago.
“I did it for a friend who passed away,” Page said. “Because he died from cancer. I did it for him.”
As a whole, though, Page said Special Olympics is a fun experience. Soccer is a unified sport in the Special Olympics, meaning athletes play with typically developing peers called partners.
Many of the partners are current or former high school and college soccer players who serve as on-field coaches, making sure players are organized, passing and taking shots on goal. Brendon Ravens and Brendon Craven were the team’s partners playing alongside Page, Joshua Hurt, David Ambriz, Kevin Foxx and Anna Mercado.
Hurt, 30, said his partners help direct him on the field, adding to his knowledge of soccer. “We have that extra help and encouragement,” Hurt said. “I don’t see the ball very well, so they say ‘go left’ or ‘go right’ or ‘12 o’clock’ or whatever, so I find that very helpful.”
After scoring early, Fire White’s strong defense limited the Blue Dragons to only a handful of shots. Two diving saves from Ambriz also kept the lead intact.
Fire White coach Sharon Chamberlain said seeing skills implemented on the field is one of the most rewarding parts of Special Olympics. Ball skills and a broader understanding of responsibility are the focuses in practice.
“It’s absolutely great,” Chamberlain said. “We really coach skills. We really focus skills and at practice, we warm up, we talk about hydration. They’re very knowledgable and they take care of themselves.
“They know about bringing their shin guards to practice and games. They come through, and this is their chance to be shining stars.”
Page’s goal, too, drew praise from the coach.
“This year is the first time he’s played,” Chamberlain said. “From the first part of the season until now he’s more in control, learned skills. He’s really improved for us.”
There’s also the broader theme of friendship at the Special Olympics, something that’s truly apparent during team sports. Hurt said his team is “like a family” and competing with athletes from all over the state is the biggest takeaway from the event.
“It’s one of the nice things, one of the things I like from Special Olympics,” Hurt said. “It brings people from all parts of this side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, it brings all these people together. The competition is great, but it’s not just that. They have events in between — that’s another thing — so we can go and socialize with people and not have it in our minds that they’re just other teams.
“We get to blend in with each other,” he continued. “It’s like we’re one big team.”