Special Olympics Partnership a Win-Win at Tabor

When the Tabor Academy Special Olympics club was started by popular student Molly Bend two years ago, no one knew how it would go.

The answer? Better than anyone could have imagined.

From humble beginnings, the club now has a 10-member student board, is seeking national status, and gets so many volunteers for their Sunday training sessions that only the first 20 get accepted.

“I think it’s just something about the Tabor community,” said junior Tali O’Leary, a Marion resident and three-sport athlete at Tabor who is a member of the club board. “Once one person heard about it, it just passed by word of mouth and has just grown and grown.”

The board came up with a list of bylaws, which go toward the goal of “leadership through positive action and reinforcement,” as O’Leary puts it. “I think that sports give you something special. I know for me, it’s an emotional thing. I get stressed, I go on a run, or play soccer for my friends.”

And for the young Special Olympians, most of whom are working toward the goal of independent living as adults, “It keeps you on schedule, and I think it really builds structure,” O’Leary said.

On Friday, the school hosted a large regional Special Olympics event for young kids as well as high school athletes from unified teams at Old Rochester and other SouthCoast schools. The Special Olympians got to work on training techniques in football and basketball, run relays, and just generally have a blast as the school took the day off from classes to focus on positive community events.

            Annaliza Souza, a Tabor senior who plays basketball and tennis, is on the board, and while her role in the School Day Games was administrative, she heard a great story of bonding.

“We had a freshman who really hadn’t had a chance to get involved with much, and she was paired up with a little girl athlete for the day,” Souza said. “And at the end of it, the girl’s parents said that it was the best day of her life.”

The success of the Special Olympics club has grown from the Sunday sessions, and it now includes a Polar Plunge that last year raised about $12,000 for Special Olympics and will be repeated again this winter.

“I think the thing is that when someone gets into volunteering even once, that’s all it takes,” Souza said. “It’s just instant.”

Here is a look at what’s happening this week at Old Rochester, Old Colony and Tabor:

Old Rochester Regional High School

ORR girls’ soccer coach Jeff Lombard doesn’t want to jinx it, but …

“I would say right now, unless things dramatically change, this could be my highest scoring offense that I’ve ever had here. They’re putting up incredible numbers.”

The team is a perennial postseason player, but this year they have been scoring goals at a remarkable clip led by the terrific trio up front of Maddie Demanche (junior), Jillian Kutash (junior) and Meg Hughes (sophomore).

“All three of them would be a top scorer on a normal team, and they’re all looking for each other,” Lombard said. “It makes it difficult for teams to focus on one.”

Senior midfielders Maddie Cooney and Leah Przybyszewski, along with Mary Butler, are also key parts of the engine for the 9-0 Bulldogs.

When you’re undefeated, sometimes it’s hard for a coach to find room for improvement, but Lombard actually feels his team’s unselfishness can go too far.

“Believe it or not, a lot of goals have gone unscored because the girls are working so hard to set someone else up,” he said. “They have such great skill, and they want to get everyone involved. We’re a difficult team to match up against. The key is us playing smart.”

The boys’ soccer team led by Ben Lafrance has won four straight and is unbeaten in its last eight to go to 4-1-4 with a big win over Voc-Tech.

ORR’s football team also keeps cruising, at 4-0 after a solid second half keyed a 30-14 road win over Dighton-Rehoboth. The Bulldogs are averaging 35.5 points per game; they host Somerset Berkley on Friday night in what should be a great test as Somerset is 3-0 and has only allowed six points all year.

Old Colony

The gameplan has changed this year for the Old Colony football team, and that’s resulted in three straight wins and another winning season on the horizon.

The Cougars are 3-1 heading into Friday night’s game at Bristol-Plymouth (7:00 pm), and they’re doing it with a run-first approach that’s a shift from the passing attack they employed with QB Jack Murphy behind center the past two years.

“We are much more run-oriented,” said Coach Brandon Mendez. “We’ve been 55-45 percent pass to run, but it’s definitely more run heavy. I think we’re a lot more physical. We knew what type of team we had, and we’re building around it.”

The No. 1 building block is senior Jarred Gagne, who is the main ballcarrier on offense as the tailback and calls the signals as the defensive leader.

“I said earlier in the year, he’d have to touch the ball 20-25 times a game, and he’s earned it,” Mendez said. “The kid works hard, he’s in phenomenal shape, he’s just a real good kid, someone you feel good about having on your team.”

Gagne had over 200 yards on 29 carries in the 28-8 win over South Shore Voke. Sophomore QB Matt Bumpus is more of a running threat than Murphy was, while Brad Plissey also gets touches in the run-and-pass game as the slot back.

On defense, Gagne, Bumpus and Plissey all contribute, but it’s the defensive line of a “dominant” Ronnie Frates and versatile Joe Weigel that leads the way.

The boys’ soccer team stood at 5-3 after a pair of big wins, 9-1 over Bristol Aggie and 2-0 over Tri-County, with Josh Vinagre and Hunter Soares notching goals.

The girls’ volleyball team has been extremely good, running out to an 8-2 record in its first 10 games and looking like a lock for the tournament.

Tabor Academy

The move to the Independent Schools League this year has meant adjustments across the program, but it’s also meant opportunities.

One of those came last weekend with Tabor’s participation in a boys’ soccer collegiate showcase geared toward giving college coaches a bulk look at the league’s players. All 16 league members played at the same facility, and Tabor (1-4) put together one of their best efforts of the year in a 2-1 loss to unbeaten Belmont Hill.

Boys’ soccer coach Ian Patrick said the Seawolves didn’t show any nerves.

“If there was pressure of playing for their potential college coaches, I wouldn’t say it was added pressure, it was a great opportunity,” he said. “A couple of the kids definitely want to play college soccer, and this is a great chance to show what they can do.”

It was the second straight week the team took part in a college showcase, having traveled to Connecticut previously.

Tabor now has 11 boys’ soccer alumni playing in college, all at the Division 3 and Division 2 level, and senior Charlie Widing is likely to be added to that list next year.

“We’re working toward getting some Division 1 players,” Patrick said, “and joining this league will help us attract athletes while also pushing us to get better to keep pace.”

The Tabor girls are 1-1-2, and Cat Berry is tied for the ISL scoring lead with 14 points. After a 5-5-2 season last year, they are looking to recapture the first-place magic of the 2015 season.

Tabor’s football team was expecting some ups and downs in the adjustment to tougher competition in the ISL, and that came to pass last Friday with a 48-18 home loss to St. Sebastian’s. The Seawolves (1-1) host Belmont Hill at 2:00 pm on Saturday.

By Jonathan Comey


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