Five years ago, senior Madison Sova was asked by her grandpa, coach of a Special Olympics basketball team, to be his assistant coach.
Special Olympics is an organization where individuals of all ages with intellectual disabilities are able to participate in sports as athletes, highlighting their abilities, rather than their disabilities.
As assistant coach to a Special Olympics basketball team, Sova worked with a team of adult basketball players in the organization.
“I thought it would be weird,” Sova said. “I never really had experience with people with special needs, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
Regardless, she agreed to volunteer, expecting to be an assistant coach for only one season.
Sova created connections with the team members, both on the court and off. She quickly fell in love with the contagious, positive energy of her team.
Unable to resist the opportunity to create even more connections, Sova decided continue assistant coaching for a second season for the Special Olympics team.
The experience of working with people with mental disabilities, people who are traditionally seen as outsiders, has greatly impacted Sova.
“I learned how to respect people more,” Sova said, commenting that the respect she gained for others was one of the most valuable and lasting things the season gave her.
Sova discovered a newfound passion for the people that she was working with by the end of her second season.
She now has five seasons of assistant coaching under her belt and anticipates becoming a head coach for the first time in January 2018.
Sova’s work through Special Olympics has affected many people with disabilities in big ways, but she’s not going to stop there.
“I decided to make a career out of it,” Sova said. “After the second year, I knew that I wanted to go into teaching special education.”
Despite entering the season unsure of what to expect, coaching for Special Olympics basketball has changed Sova’s life.