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Braintree boys lacrosse team works with Special Olympics

The Patriot Ledger - 5/15/2019

May 15-- May 15--A special partnership between the Braintree High School varsity boys lacrosse and Braintree Public School Special Olympics means athletes from both teams can learn from each other and form friendships they might not otherwise make.

"The social aspect is really the biggest thing. Athletics is just the conduit," said Steve Trocki, a special education teacher at Braintree High School and head coach for the school's boys lacrosse program.

Six years ago, when Trocki started the coaching job, he decided to encourage his lacrosse players to come help out with Special Olympics practices.

"I wanted my high school kids to get more familiar with different populations and different people within their school and within their community," he said.

The program helps special education students in the district get active and has them playing alongside some of their peers in the general education program, the same people they see in their classes and their schools' hallways.

The Special Olympics athletes meet for two six-week sessions a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. About 40 Special Olympics athletes from first through 12th grade come to each meeting, along with about 25 lacrosse players. The number of volunteers means that Special Olympics athletes who need more personal instruction can have someone working with them one-on-one during the session.

On Mondays, Trocki, the other coaches and instructors and members of the lacrosse team gather with the Special Olympics athletes in Eastern Middle School's gym. The lacrosse boys play alongside the Special Olympics athletes at games like basketball, kickball and dodgeball. They also spend time outside, going for walks and playing on the school's athletic fields when the weather is nice. On Wednesdays, the lacrosse players meet the Special Olympics athletes for bowling at Olindy's in Quincy.

This past Monday, the gym echoed with shouts of encouragement and the sound of dribbling as the athletes played cornhole and shot hoops.

Bin Nguyen, an 8th grader at South Middle School and a special education student, deftly twirled a Rubix cube while he waited his turn at cornhole. He said he couldn't pick a favorite activity he's done with the Special Olympics but loves playing outside and seeing the school's chicken patch.

"They're all just fun to do. You get to hang out with friends," he said.

Will Rutan, a senior on the lacrosse team, said even when the gym is teeming with dozens of athletes from both teams, it still feels like a welcome respite between school and lacrosse practice each Monday.

"We look forward to seeing the people we usually see," he said.

Joey Galluzzo and Matt Hemmert, both juniors from the lacrosse team, agreed that the time with the Special Olympics athletes makes for a fun break during long days.

"It clears your mind," said Galluzzo, adding that years of being part of the program means they've built up relationships with the Special Olympics athletes.

Hemmert said the partnership is a good way to give back to others in the community. And, he said, there's a sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing athletes he's worked with get better at the games they play.

Trocki said the lacrosse players are not required to help out with the Special Olympics sessions, but it is encouraged. The more they spend time with the Special Olympics athletes, he said, the more the lacrosse players start to look forward to it, and he never needs to force anyone to go to make sure he has enough volunteers.

"As they get going and they start building those relationships with the kids, it becomes more natural and they really become peers and friends," said Trocki. "It's kind of part of the culture now."

Follow Audrey Cooney on Twitter @Audrey_Cooney.

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