Soccer playing siblings Jordan Bartraw and Paige Fox will have the opportunity of a lifetime this summer, training and playing alongside members of the Toronto FC Major League Soccer team.
The Napanee District Secondary School students were selected as Special Olympic athletes to take part in the Toronto FC’s United Sports Soccer Exchange Program. Along with receiving customized FC jerseys and training with the team throughout the summer, they’ll also have the chance to play in a game on BMO Field on Aug. 24. Playing alongside ‘mainstream’ athletes, they’ll face off against the Special Olympic athletes selected by the Montreal Impact. They’ll then be invited to stay and watch a game between the FC and Impact.
“We’re sort of an oddity because we’re coming from Napanee,” said NDSS teacher and Special Olympics team coach Mike Newstead, who brought a handful of his players to the open Exchange Program tryout in June, which was held in Toronto. “It’s pretty amazing. Last year we had one person selected out of seven people total selected and I think there was 25 to 30 people trying out. Again this year I believe it was 25-30 people trying out.”
Both Bartraw and Fox were members of the NDSS Golden Hawks soccer team, which won gold at the Special Olympics Youth Invitational Games in May.
Newstead said Bartraw is one of NDSS’ most skilled players.
“Paige just works very hard and is very determined,” said Newstead.
Both display the characteristics that represent everything the Special Olympics stand for, he added.
Prior to the Aug. 24 game the athletes will be invited to Toronto for a jersey unveiling in Toronto on July 20.
“They’re just overwhelmed with how much hard work they realize they put in to achieve this,” said their mother, April Fox. “This is something they’re looking forward to. They can’t wait to take part in it. When they get there I think it will really set in and they’ll realize what they accomplished.”
Fox says opportunities like this will help to build the confidence of her kids as well as all the other Special Olympic athletes that take part.
The program is full of several gifted athletes though they can struggle with social situations that may prevent them from performing at their best. Newstead says the Napanee community has done an outstanding job at encouraging the school’s Special Olympic athletes and it’s shown with their latest run of success.
Having two students represent the town with the Toronto FC is another example of what happens when the athletes are encouraged to put forth their best effort and realize their full potential.