The essence of sport
I saw an all-star basketball game in Houston this weekend. Nah, not the NBA one. I got to see my brother-in-law participate in a Special Olympics qualifying tournament. For a while it was hard not to get choked up whenever a game started, quite honestly. (They played 8 minute games.) These kids — some were adults, but all were children in a way — came ready to play and were as into the contest as any athlete I’ve ever seen. The joy on their faces was genuine and unbridled.
My brother-in-law, a physically-talented 16-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, stole the show. Last week he had the dubious distinction of receiving a technical foul for swearing on the court (for a not discreet “Goddamnit!”), but this week his notoriety was all the good kind. In game two his team won 8-6 on his two three-point buckets (one of which was all net) and a layup — and they play on full size courts with regulation baskets! He would run back after his shots and taunt the crowd into louder praise. It was high comedy. But there were other heros too, some of whom never even touched the ball. Autistic kids who would crack a rare smile when their team (or the other team) scored; Downs kids so severely afflicted that a high five was an effort, but one gladly made; kids with all manner of protective eyewear and headgear who would’ve suffered through the whole event in chainmail if that’s what it took to participate.
You might think that such an event would be hard on an expecting parent. The gymnasium was a collection of reminders of the ways in which the miracle of conception can go awry. But actually I felt the opposite. That gymnasium was also a collection of reminders of the way that true happiness has a way of trumping the saddest twists of fate.
How often do you get to see sport in its purest form? Competition without caustic rivalry, accomplishment without showboating? As in most aspects of life for those with mental disabilities, the tournament showed absolutely no recognition of differences in race, gender, or ability. Everyone was legitimately there to have fun. The difference between this tournament and the rowdy, gaudy crowds that poured into Houston for the NBA All-Star game all weekend could not have been starker.