About 30 members of the McHenry High School football team, including players from all levels of the sport, brought smiles to the faces of dozens of children with Down syndrome Saturday on the McHenry East High School campus.
The athletes and children from GiGi's Playhouse in McHenry paired up for the ninth annual Sports Day, an event both sides eagerly look forward to every year, former GiGi's Playhouse board member Chris Newlon said.
"It's such an eye-opening experience for the players," Newlon said. "They become better people simply because I think they discover things in themselves. They can be more patient. They can be more creative and more accepting of people who are different, and the little buddies, they spend the whole year looking forward to this."
Parents of children from GiGi's Playhouse lined the main gymnasium and used their camera phones to capture video of their child as they navigated an obstacle course, played with inflatable balls and challenged their pigskin partners during a game of cornhole.
Newlon also has a child with Down syndrome, and she wants people to dispel any preconceived notions they have of people with the disorder. She said some of those notions are "that they can't learn, that they're not athletic, that they can't do any of these activities," but she added that all they need is some assistance.
"When you have a child with a disability, you are told so often that they need separate classes, separate sports, separate everything, and the truth is they don’t," she said. "They may need assistance, but they don’t need to be separate."
In talking to parents year after year, Newlon has heard similar feedback from them.
"I was so relieved to see my child being accepted as they should be – just as they are," she said.