SPECIAL Olympics Caribbean Initiative Executive Director Lorna Bell has praised the regional teams for their "exceptional" performances at the Unified Football Cup in Michigan recently.
The Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) men's team, who did not concede a goal while scoring 23 times in six matches, topped the event after defeating Paraguay 2-0 in the division one final. It was an improvement on their silver-medal finish from four years ago when they lost 0-1 to France in the division two final in Illinois.
The Special Olympics Caribbean women's team, comprising players from Aruba, Haiti, The Bahamas and Jamaica, was fourth in division two behind winners Slovakia.
"It's fantastic that our athletes are back together on the playing field and with their colleagues from around the world," Bell said after the final day of action on August 6.
"The Caribbean teams — represented by a male unified football team from SO Jamaica and a Caribbean female unified football team with athletes from Aruba, [The] Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica — were exceptional.
"The SO Jamaica team was impressive in winning division one; the Caribbean female team placed fourth in their division. They played well and were in good spirits," Bell told the Jamaica Observer.
SOJ's unified partner Dillion Richards, who topped the list of scorers with seven goals, was the men's Golden Boot winner, while Omarion Brown was awarded the Golden Glove as the tournament's best goalkeeper.
Team Caribbean goalkeeper Nicole Wright was one of the outstanding women players at the tournament, with statistics indicating she made 61 saves throughout the side's opening four games.
Bell, the former head of Special Olympics Jamaica, was grateful for the support she received from members of the Diaspora.
"It warmed my heart to see the Jamaican community in Michigan come out in their numbers. They brought the excitement — Dutch pot covers and all! This is the kind of support we welcome from the Diaspora and that our athletes deserve.
"For SO Jamaica to lift that cup in front of a crowd cheering them on, it was priceless and a moment they will never forget. Overall, it was a great competition and I thank our partners for giving our athletes a chance," she said.
The unified sports programme, a focus of the Special Olympics movement, combines people with intellectual disabilities and those without disabilities in training and competition.
Through sport activities and competition, the Special Olympics International movement aims to break down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities, such as autism and Down's syndrome, from mainstream society.
The disabilities can either be acquired or genetic and can also include cases of cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and some cases of developmental delay.
— Sanjay Myers