ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Christina Thompson saw an opportunity to make the best of a bad situation.
When a countywide Special Olympics event in Clay County was canceled due to the concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the Oakleaf softball coach had an idea.
How about a kickball game between members of the Knights softball team and Oakleaf’s Special Olympians.
It wouldn’t salvage the entire event for Special Olympians, but it would at least bring an afternoon of competition and fun and laughs to Oakleaf’s Olympians.
“I understand why lots of things are getting canceled, obviously the coronavirus stuff, but when we got wind the Special Olympics were canceled, it broke my heart,” Thompson said. “I wanted our athletes to be able to showcase their skills and feel like they could have a special day. We were like, man, let’s put something together.”
Thompson and the Oakleaf softball staff went to work, reaching out to anyone who could donate prizes or trophies. She had two people in the public announcer’s box calling the game. Members of the team made signs. The Oakleaf cheerleaders and fans came out.
By the time the kickball game started on Friday a little afternoon noon, the Special Olympians had a crowd, a cheering section and support from everywhere.
As far as the action, it wasn’t even close. Extra base kicks were the norm. Inside-the-park home runs happened with regularity.
The Knights softball team (7-1), nationally ranked until last week and ranked No. 2 in the News4Jax Super 6, couldn’t keep pace with the Special Olympians. Innings of 16 and 15 runs by the Olympians did them in, a 31-0 shellacking.
“Obviously, it was a blowout,” Thompson said. “We did not show up ready to play today.”
Thompson said her message was simple.
Even when the Special Olympians lost their own day to compete in their own events with others from across the county, Friday wound up being a day to remember after all.
Even as the sporting world stood still, there were plenty of smiles and laughs and excitement to go around.
“There’s always a silver lining to everything and there’s always a good reason to wake up and have a good day, and today was that day," Thompson said.