Right on the heels of the biggest charity event of the year for the organization, the Miami Dolphins partnered up with the Special Olympics program to give 82 Special Olympian athletes from Miami Dade and Broward County have the time of their lives with the 2015 Dolphins rookie class.
"This is the second time they've had our athletes come," said Ron Fulop, who is the Chairman of the Board for Special Olympics Florida. "The Dolphins have been tremendous in helping to sponsor our flag football both financially and with personnel support."
Kids ranging from 6th to 12th grade came pouring into the Dolphins practice bubble, all clearly excited at the thought of being able to play football with the Dolphins rookies.
"I actually have a daughter who is a special Olympian," said Fulop, "And I can tell you when they have an opportunity to partner with a professional sports athlete, it's just like, virtually anybody in terms of 'we'll do whatever it takes to be exposed to these professional athletes.'"
One individual in particular who put his heart and soul into this event, as evidenced by how he went out of his way to play and run around with the kids after officially letting the games begin, was Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey.
"My wife was a pediatric occupational therapist for many years," said Hickey. "And so it's special to our hearts and there's so many special, awesome kids out there, and it's great to give back, and it's really rewarding to work with them and have a great time."
Hickey also mentioned that this event wasn't just for the kids, but it also had a lot to do with getting the rookie class acclimated to exactly what it means to wear a Miami Dolphins uniform.
“It’s about the Dolphins way,” Hickey said. “That’s what we’re about. From Mr. Ross all the way down, we’re about giving back to the community. Our rookies do a great job. If you watch them out here, they’re really making that connection, having a great time and that’s what it’s about, giving back to the community because that’s what we’re about. It’s a bonding for them and it’s also integrating them into what it takes to be a Miami Dolphin. Obviously it’s playing on the field and winning games, but it’s also giving back to the community.”
And give back they did, as the rookies dove in headfirst and were quickly taken in by the enthusiasm of the Special Olympians, even joining into the friendly game of flag football themselves. Wide Receiver DeVante Parker lined up as a receiver and was being covered by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. Obviously, that was a severe mismatch.
"I dunno what he was trying to do." Parker joked after the game was over, "He knows better, he knows he can't cover me."
But one player who really stood out - to me at least - was cornerback Bobby McCain, who went above and beyond the call of duty and took it upon himself to help instruct the kids on what to do, how to line up, and he even took Gatorade bottles and squirted water into the kids' mouths to keep them hydrated, giving them a true football experience.
Running back Jay Ajayi made similar contributions, as he huddled up his team and gave them plays to run which led to several touchdowns and touchdown dances to go along with them.
"If you look around the whole field, all of us guys, all of us rookies, we were just trying to have fun and enjoy it with them and just play." said Ajayi. "Funny enough, at Boise State (Ajayi's college) we actually did a lot of community stuff and did things like this where we did programs where we were helping kids to have fun and just have energy and all that."
Being no stranger to giving back to the community, the event held some special significance for the rookie running back, as he was thrilled to be able to wear aqua and orange in front of others for the first time, and he was honored that it could be at an event like this.
“That was the most important thing, just to interact with them, kind of get to know them a little bit in the short time and just have fun." Ajayi said. "It’s a great feeling and that’s why we do it. That’s why we do things like this is just to be able to bring smiles to kids’ faces and just to be able to make them feel well.”
Once the games were over, the kids all got the opportunity to eat lunch with the players to cap off an incredible afternoon of football fun. Medals were given to the Special Olympians after the games, and they wore them proudly. No matter what challenges the Special Olympians face in life, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that this event was one that they would remember for the rest of their lives.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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