**This column also appeared in the Argus Leader on May 19, 2014.
|Photo-Elisha Page Argus Leader|
We all need reminders that the final score and the win-loss record aren't why we play the game in the first place. Sometimes, those reminders come from unexpected places.
During the state basketball tournament this year, I could not help but notice a young man on the Roosevelt High bench. He was not one of the players, but you could tell that he was 100 percent committed to and invested in everything that the team was doing.
Scotty Briggs, a senior and Special Olympics athlete, was providing a powerful example of sportsmanship to his peers.
Every time the Rough Riders scored, he would celebrate as if they hit the game winning shot. Every time the players came over during a time-out looking dejected, he was there to cheer them up. He helped them realize what an amazing opportunity they had playing in the game.
There are three values of sportsmanship that I hope every child takes away from his or her involvement in youth athletics:
• Build self-confidence.
• Understand the value of teamwork.
• Deepen your love of the game.
Anything that communities and coaches can do to help promote those values for kids is a worthwhile effort.
The Sanford POWER Football Academy, for example, is committed to finding ways to teach not just football, but to practice the greater lessons of sportsmanship. As a result, we will be providing a special opportunity for athletes ages 8-18 in the Sioux Falls area this summer with an event we're calling "All Champs Camp."
All Champs was born out of a partnership with Special Olympics South Dakota. Football has not been a sanctioned SOSD sport, and there have not been opportunities for kids to learn football skills or play the game. Riggs Premier Football will be offering a Skills Clinic (June 8) and Flag Football Camp (July 20) as unified events, free of charge to all athletes.
Unified sports have been around for the past twenty years or so, and they build on the premise that the power of sport is most fully realized when you pair athletes with and without developmental disabilities to play the game together. Unified sports have the power to break down social barriers and reinforce the values of sportsmanship for everyone involved.
All Champs Camp will include SOSD athletes and Academy partners learning skills and playing football together. We think it will be one of our best events, and we hope for a great turnout. We sincerely hope this event is the only the beginning of the football story for SOSD athletes in Sioux Falls.
As a coach, one of the things I enjoy most about youth sports is that pure love of the game requires no translation. Bonds of friendship form quickly and deeply. Sports can transform lives. We see it every day as kids develop discipline and work ethic, turning everyday challenges into monumental triumphs.
I believe that providing All Champs Camp to young athletes in the area is a powerful way to demonstrate our belief at the Academy that football is for everyone.
When we accept that everyone brings something to the team, kids feel good about their contribution and they get to play a game they love with friends old and new. I think athletes and coaches alike will see firsthand the power of the game to change hearts and minds.
That is the power of sportsmanship, and that is what will define all these participants as "champions."