Soccer program "changes lives and changes destiny"
Seattle Unified Soccer League brings together local high-school students with and without intellectual disabilities.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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When Eric McCurdy was first presented with a potential partnership between Special Olympics Washington and the school district, he thought about his nephew, Derrick Johnson II.
McCurdy, athletic director for Seattle Public Schools, thought about the struggles his sister, Tracy, has experienced trying to find athletic programs for her 10-year-old son, who loves soccer, but has intellectual delays.
Two years ago, Special Olympics Washington wanted to start a Unified Sports soccer league in Seattle. The organization wanted to bring together high-school students with and without intellectual disabilities through athletics.
Special Olympics Washington had the idea. McCurdy had the plan and the players. Together, with the help of Sounders FC, the Seattle Unified Soccer League was formed.
"Whatever their abilities may be, you know that you're changing lives and changing destinies," McCurdy said.
The Seattle Unified Soccer League's six-week second season ended recently, but there is one event left — the Special Olympics Washington Summer Games this weekend at Joint Base Lewis-McChord where local SUSL teams will compete for a state title.
"This is a game-changer for the community at large and certainly a game-changer for Seattle Public Schools," said Beth Wojick, the CEO of Special Olympics Washington. "We wouldn't be here without the partnership. It's been wonderful."
When Ammon McWashington, former Seattle Public Schools athletic director and executive director of schools, first approached McCurdy about bringing this project to the school district, he reached out to his athletic directors. They, in turn, teamed up with their schools' special-education departments to form teams.
Wojick calls McCurdy "a champion of the program. It would be nowhere without his support. All we did was share an idea and it became a reality, which was so incredible to watch."
Seven public schools in the Metro League started teams in the program's first year, getting about 100 students — many who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to play sports — on the field together.
"It's been a fun ride," said Joe Hampson, the sports and programs director for Special Olympics Washington.
This year, the league has expanded to 10 high schools, eight middle schools and five elementary schools, with more than 300 students participating.
"This changes everything, because these students would have never had the opportunities that they've had," said McCurdy, who also gave credit to Pegi McEvoy, the Seattle Public Schools assistant superintendent of operations.
Teams are made up of five athletes with intellectual disabilities and five without. Members of the league are also eligible to play for the Special Olympics Seattle Sounders.
The league has worked so well that other school districts are interested in starting their own, and the partnership between the MLS and Special Olympics is spreading as well.
"We're going to be doing an exchange with Special Olympics Colorado when the Rapids come to Seattle to play the Sounders and bring their Special Olympics Unified team and we'll go to Denver with our team," Wojick said.
Last year, the SUSL team from Rainier Beach won the state title and will be defending its championship this weekend.
"I've learned a lot about soccer that I never knew before," said Rainier Beach senior Camille Oliver, who is playing soccer for the first time. "Learning about the Special Olympics is fun. You see more people who like to have fun and enjoy being around other people."
Luis Arredondo, a bilingual instructional assistant at Rainier Beach, has volunteered as the team's coach for two seasons. He loves soccer and enjoys passing his passion to students who might not otherwise get the opportunity to play the game.
"I love this community," he said. "I want to help. These kids, they make me happy."
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or email@example.com