In honor of Father’s Day this Sunday, I wanted to share a fantastic story from the perspective of a Special Olympics Dad. Parent and coach Jerry Hincka reflects on his dreams for his daughters, Special Olympics athletes Molly and Charlotte Hincka. In just days, the family will depart for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens where Molly is representing Team USA.
Ultimately that’s what every father wants for their child. A chance to succeed. A chance to grow, thrive, and experience everything life has to offer. A chance to be included. For fathers of special needs children, these chances are especially precious. From a very early age, we are told, by doctors, teachers, society, that doors are closing for our children, because they have special needs. Dreams of success, of achievement, dreams of having a productive and meaningful life, need to be tempered for our children. Expectations need to be ‘dialed down.’
I sometimes find myself thinking ‘Wait a minute. All we’re looking for is a chance.’
Special Olympics has been a vehicle for my daughters Molly and Charlotte to re-open some of those doors. Doors to athletic competition. To socialization. To an environment of service, where they are able to learn the reward of helping others. Special Olympics provides an opportunity to develop skills, develop self confidence, develop a sense of being needed, all wrapped within an atmosphere of the sheer joy of competition. I have played and coached organized sports for over 40 years – Special Olympics represents the greatest ‘team’ environment I have ever seen. Everyone can assist a teammate. Everyone has something of value they can contribute. Every single person gets a chance.
My favorite Special Olympics memory comes from the all women’s basketball team I coach, the Pink Panthers. At the end of a year where we didn’t play very well, my team asked what would happen ‘when’ (not if) they won the gold medal in the state competition. I really didn’t think we’d do well, so I told them ‘if you win gold THIS season, I’ll shave my head.’ All I can say about the gold medal game was that it was the only ‘buzzer beater’ overtime game our team ever played, but the Panthers won it. And a few of the girls were SO excited with my impending follicle challenge, I thought they would spontaneously combust on the floor. Two weeks later, we had a pizza party at the house, a barber friend stopped by, and every girl got to grab the electric razor and take a healthy swipe out of my noggin.
We are thrilled (and still in a minor state of disbelief) about attending the World Games in Athens with Molly. She has worked so hard, leading up to being selected for TeamUSA, but especially since then. Her coach, PJ Sapienza, was the first person to greet us at a Special Olympics track practice, in 1999. His welcoming nature, his positive attitude, plus his great ability as a track coach, are the epitome of what those who support Special Olympics are all about.
Special days and holidays during the year sometimes serve as milestones that remind us of the challenges our special needs children face. New Year’s Day, graduation days at school, remind us that there will be additional challenges for our children to overcome, in order to make their dreams come true.
Father’s Day is different. On Father’s Day, the mood is to pause, appreciate what our children are (not what they’re not), and simply enjoy this Blessing God has given. A father of special needs children gets to enjoy this, the same as everyone else. Special Olympics gives some of our most precious friends an environment where sports, friendship and service, can be the same as everyone else.
Simply by giving these people a chance.