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Special night on soccer pitch builds connections

St. Albert’s Special Olympics soccer group meets with a passionate Impact team for a friendly exhibition match.

Riel Park witnessed a remarkable soccer game in August where the St. Albert Special Olympics soccer team came face-to-face with the Impact Division 2 men’s squad for a friendly exhibition match that left both sides smiling.

Marcus King, the head coach of Special Olympics St. Albert’s soccer program, is intimately aware of the importance of such games. While this is his debut stint with the Special Olympics, his association with soccer and its community roots run deep. 

"This is my first year with the Special Olympics,” King said “but my son has been involved for the last several years.”

The Special Olympics team has been diligently training under King’s guidance every Thursday since May, behind Ronald Harvey Elementary School. Emphasizing the fundamentals, skills development, and most importantly, the essence of team spirit and camaraderie, King’s team consists of about 16 athletes in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Tuesday’s game originated from a simple vision of connecting two diverse teams.

“Paul Kelly, head coach of the Division 2 team, was approached by one of our parents who was himself a former coach of our program," said King. 

And thanks to a lucky bit of fate, the two sides were led by men with over 15 years of history.

“It turns out that Paul was my mentor coach when I first started my coaching journey back in 2006, so it was an easy connection to move forward with the game.”

The event proved to be much more than just a regular soccer match; it became a living testament to the beauty of fusing disparate talents on a common platform.

 "We are a community of diverse abilities, and I think that it is easy to forget just how diverse [we are] and only interact with who you are familiar with," King said. 

“This kind of event brings many people together that may never normally interact and can have an impact on both teams," he said. "The limits we place on any single individual are really a social construct; it is our perception of what they are capable of.  An event like this helps to realign those perceptions.  For some, it can inspire them to strive higher than they thought possible. And for others, it can inspire them to support someone that they may never have considered supporting.”

The Impact, a group of skilled young men led by Kelly, demonstrated commendable sportsmanship, King said. Their measured approach encouraged the Special Olympics team to compete at a higher level, demonstrating a sense of elegance and respect towards the game and their opponents.

“I was thoroughly impressed at how they conducted themselves, both in facilitating success for the less-skilled Special Olympics team, and also actually playing the game the way it should be played, albeit at a slower pace, which challenged the Special Olympics team to compete at a higher level than they were used to,” said King.

“It was very classy.”

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