“Unifying Families through Christ-centered Sports”

By Fr. James W. Longe

St. Mary Parish, Westfield

       Christopher Columbus was an explorer who believed in God, himself and others. During our Columbus holiday weekend that highlights his courageous accomplishments many centuries ago, we present-day Disciples of the same Lord Jesus embarked upon our own journey of Faith, seeking our own outpouring of divine grace .

       Here we find Mr. Juan Soto getting ready to depart St. Mary’s Parish in Westfield, where he worships with his wife and three daughters. It is no coincidence that St. Joseph proudly stands behind, giving firm approval. We are departing in God’s name to join fellow human beings who happen to possess intellectual and/or physical limitations. Within a matter of hours, we will be playing basketball upon the parquet floor of Boston’s TD Garden. Yes, we are talking about the court of the fabled Boston Celtics! Praise the Lord!

       After gathering at the Riverside and Boston College stations, we depart as a group for continuous fellowship and safety. Since it is a Sunday afternoon, the crowds, cars and traffic are not as numerous as usual – and we are grateful!

       After an hour plus ride, we arrive at our destination. With the “Bunker Hill Bridge” proudly rising in the rear, we climb out of the subway tunnel into delightful Fall weather, under crystal blue skies. God is good! Now it’s time to eat .

       

Warmly welcomed by a popular sports bar/restaurant apply named, “The Greatest Bar” (on Friend Street), we enter and begin socializing and rejoicing. The owners of this establishment kindly gave us free food and unlimited drinks, which was a great blessing! We were 100 strong on the fourth floor: parent, friend and child alike. Our beloved Boston Celtics would be playing the Toronto Raptors in less than three hours . . . . So much to talk about!

       Walking in “blind faith” into the Garden, we were delightfully stunned to find the owners of the Celtics had blessed us with “promenade seating” – Alleluia! By 6:00pm, we were about 250 strong, relaxing in privileged seats that can easily hold 400! Please God, bless the Celtics for their remarkable generosity – Amen!

       Even though the seats and accommodations were remarkable, for us on pilgrimage, our highlight began before the National Anthem was even sung. Split into two groups, about 80 of Westfield’s “special needs’ children were allowed to enter the hallowed floor and compete in non-judgmental basketball for roughly 20 minutes – and it was awesome! Of course, the greatest cheers came from our dedicated parents who watched in joy and through tears .

       After forming the finest “fan tunnel” the Celtics have ever seen, we relaxed in our seats and watched a competitive game between two talented teams. At half time, once again, our children were on the court and loving every second! This time there were more fans in the seats and the cheering for our children was more spontaneous and intense. Praise God! After witnessing the Celtics crush the Raptors (91 to 87), it was time to leave, re-enter the subway system and reflect upon this privileged evening of mutual love, respect and honor .

For those in Western Massachusetts who are blessed with “special needs” children and siblings, we encourage you to inquire and contact the Unified Sports Program of Westfield, competently and compassionately led by Steve and Lisa Berube. Their dynamic and routinely updated website can be found at:  www.unifiedsportsprogram.com/ Enjoying life, respecting God, improving self-esteem and experiencing social inclusion through mainstream sports: what a great concept!

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