COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — It’s a day they’ll never forget: Signing day for the Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Unified team.
"This is the best day of the year from our perspective," said Rapids Executive Vice President and General Manager Padraig Smith. "It’s wonderful to be able to engage with these athletes, their families, and to really have them become apart of the Colorado Rapids family."
This is the 10th year the Rapids have partnered with Special Olympics to form a unified team, made up of players both with and without intellectual disabilities.
They sign contracts, hang out in the Rapids locker room, get sweet gear, train together and eventually play in matches. You can feel Smith’s excitement about this day.
"When they walk into this locker room it’s a big deal. We get to tell them that only four teams use this: The Colorado Rapids, the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team and them -- and that’s a really cool thing," he said. "They’re part of us. They’re part of this club. They’re part of what we’re looking to build here."
"When you see them, when you see their families, when they sign the contract, when they go out there wearing our jersey, and play these games, it’s a wonderful thing. I think it really does bring a lot of joy to them and to us and it’s without a doubt our favorite day of the year. Sometimes in professional soccer, the joy is something that comes after time. But with this, it’s pure joy right from the beginning and that’s a wonderful thing."
That pure joy could be seen on every player's face when they took to the pitch for their first training session. Just ask Scotty Stephens, a returner to the Rapids Unified team.
"I love the goalkeeper and the players have fun and they have good shooting on that team," he said. "Yeah, it’s fun. I signed up and I’m ready for the games coming up soon."
Lilie Stoolman is one of the team’s partners; one of the handful of players who do not have disabilities. They help facilitate play on the field and do so much more off the field.
"The team is just amazing. It feels like a family," she said. "I’ve met some people I know are gonna be my lifelong friends. It’s amazing to see what everyone with different abilities can come together and do.
"It brings everyone together, just being a unified team just brings all kinds of abilities together and we get to see all potentials of all different ranges of people."
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