Pinoys to show grit in Special Olympics
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A delegation of 98 Filipino athletes with intellectual disabilities will wear the national colors in seven sporting events at the inaugural Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle, Australia, with hostilities set to reel off tomorrow.

The athletes and 40 support staff arrived in Newcastle last Thursday to participate in the regional competitions that will determine qualifiers for the 14th Special Olympics Summer World Games in Los Angeles on July 24-Aug. 2, 2015. The Philippines is represented in seven sports – aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling and football. The only two sports where the country is not competing are cricket and table tennis.

Over 2,500 athletes from over 30 countries in the Asia-Pacific region will gather at the 33,000-seat Hunter Stadium for the opening ceremonies today. Organizers are mobilizing 5,000 volunteers to take care of the 200,000 spectators expected to witness the games which will be held every day starting tomorrow until Friday, except Wednesday.

The popular Las Vegas-based Australian vocal group Human Nature will headline today’s two-hour opening program. The closing ceremonies will be on Saturday. Mike Moran, a Filipino finance specialist based in Sydney, will join the Philippine delegation for the opening rites. Moran has solicited assistance from Filipinos in Australia to support the football team made up of 15 players and three coaches. The team called the Specials is funded by the Henry V. Moran Foundation.

“The foundation, named in honor of my father, organized the sponsorship to enable the Philippines to send a football team to Newcastle,” said Moran. “Coach is Jess Landagan who played in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is a very able coach, great with the kids. I’ve known Jess since my own playing days with the national team. The Specials team director and head of football of the foundation is Ed Formoso who was my classmate and batchmate from La Salle Greenhills and La Salle Taft.” Moran will be in Newcastle until Wednesday. “As a director of the foundation, I hope to show the kids a bit of the Australian culture as for most if not all of them, this is their first time in Australia,” he added. “We’re very proud of our players whose average age is 19.”

The Specials prepared for the Newcastle tournament in Baguio where they trained for three weeks. Landagan scheduled twice-a-day practices from 6 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Moran described the Specials as an “eco-friendly” team with “special needs.” Last October, the foundation held an invitational golf tournament to raise funds for the Specials at the Valley Golf and Country Club in Antipolo.

Foundation chairman Danny Moran is actively backing up the Specials and spearheaded the event “A Very Special Futbol Cup” at the Tuloy San Don Bosco Streetchildren Village in Alabang early this year. The event kicked off the fund-raising campaign for the Specials.

“The Alabang event proudly showcased the football skills of players who despite developmental and learning disabilities, exhibit an admirable overflow of camaraderie and sportsmanship,” said Moran. “What overly unifies the players is how they show the joy of play, display warm regard and supportive attitude towards each other and exhibit and energetic and genial performance in the football pitch.” The foundation was established in 2009 to help improve the lives of the poor through community service, training and vocational programs. Since the Moran brothers were former national football players, they earmarked football as a focus sport for the foundation, particularly in taking up the cudgels for the plight of children with developmental and learning disabilities who exhibit an aptitude and passion for the game. The foundation maintains a football program for boys and girls at Elsie Gaches Village.

The Philippine delegation includes 11 athletes in aquatics with Speedo as their sponsor. The National Capital Region, Iloilo and La Union chapters of Special Olympics Philippines were  recepients of Speedo’s Endurance+ suits, goggles, swim caps and team uniforms.

“Speedo believes in the cause of the organization and shares the same vision of uniting athletes through the universal language of sports,” said Speedo sales and marketing manager Mayleen Valentino.

Special Olympics now serves nearly 3.5 million athletes in 226 programs across more than 170 countries. It is the largest program of sports training and athletic competition in the world for those with intellectual disabilities. The movement was started in 1962 with Eunice Kennedy Shriver providing the impetus to invite 75 intellectually-challenged children to participate in sports in her backyard in Maryland. Shriver was inspired to conceptualize the movement by her close relationship with her intellectually disabled sister Rosemary Kennedy. She envisioned a day where the lives of the intellectually disabled would be transformed through sport. The first Special Olympics Summer World Games were held in July 1968 in Chicago with over 1,000 athletes participating. The first Special Olympics Winter World Games were held in Steamboat Springs in 1977. The only countries to host the Special Olympics Summer World Games outside of the US were Ireland in 2003, China in 2007 and Greece in 2011. 





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