By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — While the Newburyport boys and girls soccer teams prepare themselves for the state tournament, there is another Port team ready to do the same. A group of seven athletes are currently preparing themselves to take on the rest of the state in the Special Olympics tournament at the Governor’s Academy, November 4.
“The idea is to have a lot of fun,” says head coach and NHS Independent Development Center instructional assistant Matt Hubbard. “(And) it seems like they are having a lot of fun. We have a little bit of camaraderie out here and get to enjoy each other’s company outside of the classroom setting.”
The Olympians, freshmen Jared Bedard, Amanda Kelleher, Stuart Linenfelser; sophomores David Junkins, Kay Alexander and Eoin Robertson; and senior Natasha Harwood, played in an assessment round at the Pingree School in late September, going 1-1 in the rain.
The team made the state tournament and has been practicing along with three Unified Partners: seniors and varsity soccer co-captains Jordy Steelman and goalkeeper Matt Canning as well as freshman hockey player Meghan Hubbard.
For Steelman, who is in his seventh season as a Unified Partner between soccer and basketball, this year’s tournaments are bittersweet since they will be his last taking to the pitch and the court along with this team.
“It’s taught me so much,” Steelman says of his Unified experience. “Patience, understanding, empathy and to stay positive and work with what you’ve got. They’ve really given me as much as I’ve given them. I’m going to definitely miss it.”
On the other side of the coin is the younger Hubbard, who is in her first year as a Unified Partner. Hubbard has worked with the Olympians before in the classroom, but has gotten a different perspective out on the pitch.
“You kind of learn how excited they can get about these things that we take for granted,” Meghan Hubbard says of the Olympians.
In his first year himself, Bedard plays on the offensive side of the ball and has a serious boot.
“I like it a lot,” Bedard says of his first year as a Special Olympian. “‘Cause I kick the ball so hard, I put it up in the air.”
Known as the sassy one of the bunch, Robertson is in his second year and is feeling good about his role on the squad.
“I can kick it all the way to the fence,” says the proud sophomore who pulls no punches in self-assessment. “I’m better than you.”
The soft-spoken Alexander plays all sides of the field and likes her team’s chances in November.
“I feel really good about it,” Alexander says of the upcoming tournament. “Because I think we might win. Because we’ve got a good team.”
These Special Olympians are also aided by their mentors and former players, James Colburn, Murphy Ferrick and Tyler Gilfus along with post-graduates Adam Kapp, Ben Jansson and Cam Toye. Boys soccer assistant coach Matt Solazzo fills the same position here.
“They’re good, they’re actually really good,” Solazzo says. “We’ve got the coaches and the athletes, and they’re all responding and having a good time.”
Solazzo knows what it takes to win, and is grateful for all the help he and his team have gotten over the years.
“It’s working out great,” says Solazzo. “Jordy’s been a huge help to us for the last four years. We’ve had some other kids who have helped us out throughout the years, Connor (Glynn) and Matt Canning. So we really appreciate that. The more guys we can get out here, the better.”