Special Olympics vs. Colorado
Photo by Adam Wickham

Unified Special Olympics teams from Portland and Colorado compete at JELD-WEN Field

Fans of the Portland Timbers have surely noticed the mini-match that takes place in front of the North End of JELD-WEN Field either before or during halftime of Timbers games. These mini-matches feature teams from local youth clubs, providing them a fun venue to showcase their skills on a famous pitch. However, during Saturday’s MLS Reserve League match between Portland and Colorado, fans witnessed a memorable mini-match.

Special Olympics Oregon (SOOR) and Special Olympics Colorado (SOCO) squared off for the second time that day in a happy display of soccer skills and sportsmanship. These teams are a part of the Unified Sports program that combine approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities. The mini-match was the final event in the Unified Exchange Weekend that featured opportunities for the teams to compete against each other as well as spend time getting to know each other and making new friends.

The SOCO team worked with  Denver Parks and Recreation to form a team of players around the same age and are passionate about soccer. The team has joined with other Special Olympics teams in MLS cities to allow youth to travel independently without their parents and gain new experiences.

“We’ve watched the kids grow a lot. They’ve learned to make new friends in other cities, and some of them make friends for life,” said Valerie Holland, Community Relations Coordinator for Kroenke Sports and Entertainment. “They get to travel on their own without their parents. It’s been an all-around learning experience. Their soccer skills have improved, their social skills, everything.”

The Special Olympics teams for Colorado and Portland were both in attendance to watch the Timbers play the Rapids on Friday night at JELD-WEN Field. The next day, the squads took the field at the adidas Village to square off in a full match.

Despite the pouring rain, both teams had a great experience, says Holland.

“They had an absolute blast. They were running around in the rain, they were scoring goals and dancing. They got to have a Papa Murphy’s pizza party afterward, and a couple guys from our team showed up to encourage them to play.”

The weekend of October 11-13th, SOOR will be hosting Special Olympics Washington Sounders in conjunction with the Cascadia Cup. They will partake in the Cascadia Challenge and the Rose City Unity Match. For more information about Special Olympics Oregon, go to www.soor.org.