Samuel Bacon asked his mother if he could volunteer with Special Olympics after watching a television special on the organization. He had recently moved across country and missed his best friend, a young man with Autism. Special Olympics reminded him of his friend and he wanted to help.
He started volunteering at local events. On his first day, Sam and his mother were entrusted with the awards tent. Sam found himself announcing athletes’ names over a loudspeaker while his mother hung medals around their necks. Later that spring, he helped out at the Summer Games where he worked in staging and leading athletes from events to the awards tent. At the age of 11, he was a tour guide, cheerleader and host to individuals his age and older.
Special Olympics introduced him to a local ARC. Sam started volunteering annually as a Unified Player on their basketball team. He encouraged one of the youngest athletes, who only had the use of one arm, to shoot at a hoop made of his encircled arms. The eight year old girl loved basketball. She also loved hitting Sam in the nose with the ball. He shadowed a teenager with Autism who needed gentle persuasion to run up and down the court. He gently assisted the most disabled, yet he also encouraged the most talented athletes, helping them to shoot better, pass and runs plays.
Today, Sam is 17 years old and coaches his own basketball team. “The Heated Lions” are a group of 10 teenagers who train weekly to compete at the winter games in Worcester, MA.
During the winter games two years ago, Sam supported the young woman with Autism. Although they worked hard, the team slowly fell behind. The coach realized the young woman was the only person on the team who had not scored, so everyone focused on putting the ball in her hands. Finally, after many attempts, she held the ball. She looked at the basket. The game—a hard fought, exciting one—stopped abruptly. Nobody on either team moved. The audience held their collective breath. She took a shot: she succeeded. Although Sam’s team lost that day, every player won, thanks to the sportsmanship and grace of all the athletes on the court.
Through his years of volunteering, he has not only contributed to making past and current sporting events successful, he has set up a program that will continue to serve the community for years to come. There will always be kids who need a sports team for socializing and physical fitness. Sam’s team will continue to play, long after he graduates and goes away to college.