The New York Red Bulls Special Olympics Unified Soccer Team traveled to Philadelphia on Saturday to take on a unified team representing the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park. The two sides met ahead of the Red Bulls/Union MLS match.
The Red Bulls partnered with Rowan Unified Sports for the event. The unified program from Rowan, New Jersey, is part of MLS' Unified Sports exchange program with Special Olympics North America.
"The Red Bulls went above and beyond with their partnership with the club," said unified coach Billy Moylan. "Seeing all of the hard work that went into making that day possible was something special."
Rowan Unified Sports is a sports club run through Rowan University's recreation center. The team is coached and run by students from Rowan University, like Moylan. Students also participate as unified partners, helping facilitate the game for the athletes.
"To be able to play on the field that is shared by professional athletes was an experience like no other for the athletes," said Moylan. "Wearing authentic jerseys that the Red Bulls wear with the last names of the athletes and partners from Rowan really added to the inclusive aspect of the Red Bulls and Rowan Unified Sports. It speaks measures to the Red Bulls organization that the professional players on the Red Bulls were watching the game with interest. The impact that this day has on the athletes is one that will last a lifetime. A huge thank you to the Red Bulls for playing unified, but more importantly, living unified."
The Red Bulls team rallied together for a second-half comeback, but ultimately fell to the team from the Union. The Red Bulls will get a chance to host a unified match on August 30, when the D.C. United Unified team will come to Red Bull Arena for a match on the same day the Red Bulls host rival D.C. United.
The Red Bulls also teamed up with Special Olympics New Jersey to run two weeks of soccer camp for SONJ's Camp Shriver in July. For the sixth consecutive Summer, the Red Bulls teamed up with the Camp Shriver program to run two weeks of soccer camps for Special Olympics athletes at the Special Olympics center in Lawrenceville, N.J.
Red Bulls Training Programs provided TOPSoccer-certified Red Bulls youth coaches for both of the week-long camps. The Outreach Program for Soccer, or TOPSoccer, is a program offered by New Jersey Youth Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer that aims to provide opportunities for children with disabilities to learn and play soccer. TOPS offers coaching clinics that prepare coaches to create environments tailored to children with special needs.
"Each summer Special Olympics New Jersey conducts Camp Shriver at the Sports Complex in Lawrenceville," said Heather Anderson, President and CEO of Special Olympics New Jersey.
"Our goal is to offer a fun, sports camp experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities of all ages, while enhancing their proficiency and skills in a variety of sports. During soccer week every year, trainers from the Red Bulls and players from the team coach the game to nearly 100 athletes. Having the Red Bulls involved at Camp Shriver has played an integral role in the Camp's growth and popularity among our community."
"You get to see the joy on their faces, and it just made me so happy to be there," said Red Bulls rookie Shawn McLaws. "Just the overall fun that everyone was having was great. We got to work with the kids, they enjoyed it so much, they were loving it and that just made us love it more. It was just a really special moment for everyone."
Groups of Red Bulls players took part in the camp every day, except for game days, helping the coaches run drills and participating in games with the athletes. The Red Bulls staff was also supported by a group of volunteers from local high schools.