Colorado Rapids and Special Olympics Colorado kick off the second annual Unified All-Star Soccer season

Rapids, KSE Charities, and Special Olympics provide unique experience for area soccer players

Englewood, Colo. – Last night, Special Olympics Colorado (SOCO) and the Colorado Rapids kicked off the second annual Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Unified All-Star Soccer season at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. This partnership is a program that provides unique training, competitions and social experiences for not only individuals with intellectual disabilities but for everyone involved. Through the generosity of the Kroenke Sports Charities’ Teammates for Kids program, in addition to financial and in-kind support from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Coca-Cola and the Colorado Rapids, 11 athletes and coaches from Colorado will have the opportunity to engage with the Colorado Rapids in a one-of-kind experience over the next six weeks.

Special Olympics Unified Sports® is a program which integrates Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners (typically developing players) on the same team. This summer’s program includes practices, ongoing interaction with Colorado Rapids players, and soccer matches against Special Olympics Unified teams from other states who are engaging in a similar way with their local MLS teams.

“The Colorado Rapids and Kroenke Sports Charities are leaders in building a unique opportunity for our athletes through a series of first-class soccer experiences and social activities,” says Mindy Watrous, President and CEO of Special Olympics Colorado. “Special Olympics is committed to growing the sport of soccer around the globe and building more awareness around the impact of our Special Olympics Unified Sports program. Thanks to the genuine involvement of the Rapids front office executives and the club’s players, we are positively impacting the lives of the athletes selected this year and paving the way for growth of a program that will ultimately demonstrate the value of an inclusive culture within youth sports.”

The 2013 Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Unified All-Star soccer team is made up of athletes, partners and coaches from along the Front Range. Special Olympics athletes include Mackenzie Beauvais-Nikl, Morgan Butler, Ben Hollis, Ibsen Ojeda and Sam Villela.  Azur Ewari, Dylan Spencer and Ryan Yim are participating as Special Olympics Unified partners; and Aspen DeField, Ilima Kane and Phil Knight are serving as the Unified team’s coaches.

The athletes and partners on the team range in age from 14-21 years old and reside predominately in the Denver area (Butler comes from Colorado Springs). DeField is a recreation therapist for the Denver Parks and Recreation Adaptive Recreation program. Kane is a program manager at Klein Buendel, Inc., and Knight works for Next Gen Web Solutions. All three coaches volunteer as Special Olympics coaches for Denver Parks and Recreation and served as the coaching staff in the inaugural year program.

“The experience last year made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something different than school teams,” said Mackenzie Beauvais-Nikl, captain of the 2012 Rapids Special Olympics Unified All-Star team. “It felt like I was a normal kid and I had my own group of friends. It felt really good. I learned to be a team leader and to be supportive. I said to my teammates: ‘Try it again, don’t give up and don’t walk away from it.’”

“The Rapids organization provides the athletes with an opportunity to work hard, form team bonds, develop independence and leadership skills, and have a source of pride that their families and peers can witness, while participating in a sport that they enjoy,” Aspen DeField said. “It is also amazing to see the effect that working with Special Olympics athletes has had on the players and staff of the Rapids.”

Last night, the team met for its first practice at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Each Special Olympics team member arrived at DSG Park and was escorted to the official Rapids locker room where they had their own locker loaded up with full sets of personalized game, practice and travel gear, including cleats and a ball. Defender Chris Klute and goalkeeper Matt Pickens, serving as the lead Rapids players for this season’s Special Olympics program, were on hand to personally congratulate the players on their selection and welcome them to the Colorado Rapids family.

“We are all inspired by the dedication of the athletes, coaches and staff from Special Olympics Colorado, and they made a huge impression on us last year when this program first started,” said Rapids President Tim Hinchey. “Our players truly enjoyed the experience of working with the Colorado Rapids Special Olympics team in 2012, and are excited to engage and participate again this season. We see this team as an important part of the Colorado Rapids, another way for us to connect with everyone in our community, to encourage a love of being active, competing, and playing the sport of soccer. We’re excited to see these young players in action.”

In addition to weekly practices with appearances and training from Colorado Rapids players, the Rapids Special Olympics Unified team will compete against two other states in September. The first of back-to-back weekends kicks off with Colorado hosting a Special Olympics team from Dallas when FC Dallas heads north for a match at DSG on Saturday, September 14. The three-day trip will be highlighted by a 40-minute match at DSG Park immediately following the MLS match between the Rapids and FC Dallas which starts at 7 p.m. MT.

A special $20 ticket rate (face value $35) is available for friends and fans of Special Olympics are available for the Sept. 14 match by visiting SpecialOlympicsCO.org. A portion of the proceeds for those tickets sold through the Special Olympics website will go to help fund Special Olympics soccer programs.

The following weekend, Sept. 20-22, the SOCO Rapids Unified Team will travel to Portland, Ore., for a similar exchange program with Special Olympics Oregon and the Portland Timbers. While in Portland, the team will participate in an exclusive training program at the Adidas corporate headquarters’ state of the art facilities.

Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Unified All-Star Team Roster

About Special Olympics Unified Sports ®

Special Olympics Unified Sports® was launched throughout the United States in 1989 after two years of field testing. Special Olympics Unified Sports® is now a global program that combines Special Olympics Athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities (partners) on the same sports team. Special Olympics Unified Sports® enables athletes to develop friendships and a better understanding of each other’s capabilities through a spirit of equality and team unity. This fall, at least 30 high schools in Colorado will offer unified sports programs for its students.

About Special Olympics Colorado

Special Olympics Colorado provides year-round training and competition in 22 sports for more than 13,000 athletes living in the state of Colorado. With the support of more than 6,600 volunteers and the generosity of Colorado citizens, corporations and local businesses, Special Olympics Colorado is able to offer more than 100 events annually to individuals with intellectual disabilities age 2½ and up. Participation with other athletes, Unified partners (typically developing peers), coaches, sponsors and volunteers builds confidence and creates opportunities to participate as productive and respected members of society by increasing public awareness of the athletes’ capabilities. For more information, visit SpecialOlympicsCO.org.

About the Colorado Rapids

Established on October 17, 1995, the Colorado Rapids have achieved success both on and off the field, including the team’s first MLS Cup championship in 2010. A leader in the community, the Rapids participate in many initiatives and causes, raising tens of thousands of dollars annually for Kroenke Sports Charities. The extensive Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club also provides opportunities for children to develop as players and people in a challenging, supportive, and safe environment. Based at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, the Rapids are a part of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, owned and governed by E. Stanley Kroenke. More information on the team is available at www.ColoradoRapids.com.

About Kroenke Sports Charities

Kroenke Sports Charities is a Colorado based 501c3 organization committed to improving the lives of families and children in Colorado. Our strategic community investment is in many forms: support of education, health and hunger programs, and youth organizations via grants and donations to non-profit agencies.