Special Olympics soccer tournament draws kids from across state
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2012
10/11/12 at 7:42 AM
OWASSO - Taylor Paul told her brothers Wednesday morning that she was going to play in a soccer tournament.
The 11-year-old wore a real jersey, rode a Jenks Trojans bus and walked onto the field with the rest of her team.
But the best part, it seemed, was bragging about it over breakfast with her family.
"It's not just about the game," explained Erin Paul, Taylor's mother. "It's about the whole experience. It's about making her a part of things."
In the largest competition of its kind in the area, Special Olympics Oklahoma had a statewide soccer tournament Wednesday at the Owasso Sports Complex.
Diagnosed with Down syndrome, Taylor began playing soccer at age 4, when she joined a league that catered to children with special needs.
But the Special Olympics took the competition - and the experience - to a new level, her mother said.
"It's team-building and practicing and learning to cope with disappointment if they lose," Paul said.
"She's learning a lot of life skills that we all need and are a lot more important than just knowing how to play soccer."
With players ranging from grade-school students to adults, Wednesday's tournament attracted more than 40 teams from as far aways as Noble, Yukon and Harrah, making it the biggest soccer event that Special Olympics Oklahoma has ever had.
Some teams include competitive players who serve as "peer helpers" alongside the special athletes.
The competitive players have to tone down the competition a little.
But only a little.
"It's just as competitive as any other sporting event," said Jenks coach Eric Petersen, "just at a different level. Everybody wants to win and everybody tries to win."
But winning is never everything in sports, and especially not with Special Olympics.
"They get to ride a bus to the game. They get out of school for the day. They get to borrow varsity shirts," Petersen said.
"That's a big deal to kids. And it's such a good way to build relationships, inside and outside of school, and to be part of something in a way that everybody else takes for granted."
The Owasso Soccer Club and the NorthEast Oklahoma Futball Club have hosted the Special Olympics competition for eight years.
Original Print Headline: Olympic-size competition
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Jenks player Marlo Zoller (from left) helps Ben Ahumada and Austin Wilkerson move the ball downfield Wednesday during a Special OlympicsOklahoma soccer tournament in Owasso. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Taylor Paul (right) dribbles downfield with Mitchell Horn during the Special Olympics Oklahoma soccer tournament Wednesday in Owasso. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Jenks player Aiden Keester (right) high-fives the opposing team as Emma Snowbarger andMitchell Horn follow behind him during a Special Olympics Oklahoma soccer tournament Wednesdayin Owasso. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World