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Earlier this month, the Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All-Star Team had the opportunity of a lifetime. What began with tryouts in April turned into an unforgettable experience for the athletes, Unified Partners, coaching staff and more.
The team traveled alongside the Chicago Fire first team to Portland, Ore., where they competed against the Special Olympics Oregon Timbers Unified All-Star Team on Aug. 6. Uniformed identical to the Chicago Fire, the all-stars were treated like first-class athletes.
This was not the first time the All-Star Team interacted with the Chicago Fire players. In fact, the Chicago Fire took the field with the All-Stars at their last practice before departing for Portland. Afterwards, while the teams ate lunch together, they bonded over their love of video games, music and, of course, soccer.
In Portland, the All-Star Team stayed at luxury hotel, The Nines, and competed in world-class facilities.
The Chicago Fire Unified All-Star Team took on its opponent the Portland Timbers Unified All-Star Team on the campus of Adidas in Portland. Although suffering a 7-2 loss, the team came together and played well. Unified Partner Jared Hoekstra scored both goals.
After competition finished, the team shopped in the Adidas employee store, and the following morning spent the day at both International Rose Test Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden before getting to know the Special Olympics Oregon/Portland Timbers team at the Bite of Oregon, an event similar to the Taste of Chicago.
Later that afternoon, the All-Stars were back to soccer. Special Olympics Oregon and Special Olympics Illinois played a shortened game prior to the first team match at Providence Park. Despite tremendous effort, the Chicago Fire Unified All-Star Team lost 3-2. Athlete Ryan McDonough and Unified Partner Jared Hoekstra scored the two goals. Post-goal, Ryan exclaimed, “I am the coolest guy in the world.”
The teams played right on main field in front of the Portland Timbers’ fan club, the Timbers Army, and both teams received a standing ovation from the Timbers Army.
“I have been lucky enough to experience a lot of great memories with Special Olympics over the years,” said Jennifer Marcello, Special Olympics Illinois Director of Young Athletes. “However, standing on the pitch and watching our athletes and partners play in front of an army of opponents was truly an experience,” “They handled it with dignity and pride.”
“What truly impacted me,” Marcello continued, “was when I looked over to the sideline and noticed that the entire first team, including coaches for the Chicago Fire, standing there cheering them on. That is something I will never forget!”
“Our athletes had a once in a lifetime experience,” said team assistant coach Julie Phelan. “I am very proud and grateful to have been a part of such a great partnership between Special Olympics Illinois and the Chicago Fire.” She continued, “To witness firsthand the happiness and joy that these athletes had was amazing.”
Special Olympics Illinois would like to thank the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and the Chicago Fire Foundation for allowing our athletes this incredible experience.
“This partnership with the Chicago Fire is more than a professional sports team saying they are willing to help Special Olympics. The players, coaches, staff and fans have given our athletes a world-class experience on multiple levels,” said Marcello. “They go above and beyond the parameters of partnership and have included Special Olympics into their culture, we are grateful for their willingness to consistently support the amazing athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.”
The Chicago Fire is highlighting their partnership with Special Olympics Illinois by introducing the Special Olympics Illinois Unified All Star Team during the half time of their game vs. DC United.
A portion of all tickets sales on this date will be donated to Special Olympics Illinois. The Chicago Fire have significantly increased their involved with Special Olympics this year and this is our chance to show our support!
To purchase tickets visit: http://www.chicago-fire.com/specialolympics
The Chicago Fire and Special Olympics Illinois introduced on April 3 members of the inaugural Unified Soccer All-Star team, a squad composed of Illinois-based teens with and without intellectual disabilities.
Selected were Special Olympics Illinois athlete Joshua Banty and Unified Partner Andy Torres of School District 23; athletes Mackenzie Carlson and Nathan Simmons and Partner Brenna Poncin of Normal Community West High School; athlete Adam Letcher and Partner Gerardo Valencia of Hoffman Estates High School; athlete Ryan McDonough of Waubonsie Valley High School; and athlete Warren Richards and Partner Jared Joekstra of Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
Over the next four months, the team will train together in preparation for a matchup with Special Olympics Oregon, which will be held in conjunction with the Chicago Fire First Team’s Aug. 7 road match at Portland Timbers.
With more than half a million participants worldwide, Unified Sports initiatives seek to break down stereotypes in a fun and empowering athletic environment. Unified Sports soccer matches feature 5 a side competition, with each side represented by three athletes and two Partners.
“Special Olympics Illinois is grateful to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club for allowing our athletes the opportunity to compete on the same stage as their professional athletes,” said Jen Marcello, Director of Young Athletes with Special Olympics Illinois. “Through the Unified Soccer All-Star Team we are thrilled to showcase the abilities of athletes both with and without intellectual disabilities and strive to drive home the importance of sportsmanship, respect and teamwork.”
On March 28, candidates from around Chicagoland and Central Illinois turned out to The PrivateBank Fire Pitch to participate in tryouts. Athletes were put through their paces by a coaching staff comprised of Paul Cadwell, Chicago Fire Director of Soccer and Team Development, and Special Olympics Unified Coaches David Dore of Homewood-Flossmoor High School and Julie Phelan of Hoffman Estates High School.
Following tryouts, the coaching staff named a team of six athletes and four Partners, who came together for their first official practice April 11 at Toyota Park. The group will receive training from Fire players and coaches as well as Special Olympics instructors throughout their preparations.
In addition to their August road trip to Portland, the Unified Sports team also will be recognized in a special send-off event during the Fire’s June 24 home match against D.C. United.