Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome
By Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
Women’s Soccer Coach Stephanie Fornander teaches her Eagle High students about making goals but not just on the field. Last year, Fornander and her team raised money for RODS–Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome, and achieved a goal they were all proud of.
Fornander has been coaching soccer at Eagle High for the last 17 years.One of the most important games of the year took place on September 16–a special game which raised money for RODS. RODS’ mission is to nurture a positive image of Down syndrome and to promote awareness for the adoption of orphans with Down syndrome by raising adoption grant funds, one child at a time, and by participating in organized, athletic races and awareness events.
Pledges were requested for every goal made by the VIP (athletes with special needs) students. Donations went to RODS to assist with the expense of adopting Laura, the featured RODS orphan. Inclusion of all students was promoted and signs bore the phrase “Winning with inclusion.” All students were invited to participate in the experience and each VIP student was honored when his or her name was called out with the starting lineup. Publicly introduced before the game, each Eagle High special education student kicked a shot to the goalie during the pre-game events. The VIP students also enjoyed a pizza party during the game.
VIP athletes scored ten goals. Joyful faces and high fives were shared as students who don’t often get a chance to shine enjoyed the limelight. All Eagle High Varsity, Junior Varsity and Sophomore/Freshman Women’s Soccer team members are Rods Jr. members. Soccer teammates scored 5 additional goals for a total of 15 goals. Fifteen pledges were collected, totaling nearly $1,500 in donations.
“The kids had an amazing time and we even had the support of other RODS Jr. team members supporting our VIP athletes,” enthused Trace Dandrea, whose son Anthony has Down syndrome. “Seeing our VIP athletes shooting goals during half time made it even more meaningful.”
The RODS banner was displayed on Dandrea’s RV, a central location for athletes and advocates to congregate and spread the word. Many parents shared how much they appreciated the opportunity for their children to help those less fortunate with Dandrea. The community was inspired to help RODS and understood the blessing of supportive families.
The Eagle High Women’s soccer team learned about concepts of integrity and leadership and the importance of giving back to the community. “All Varsity and Junior Varsity girls were participants in the event,” says Fornander. “Varsity had more of a hands on role with our shoot out and introducing of our honorary team members. We want to make it special and encourage involvement and inclusion throughout our team, the school and the community. It’s great to see them do more than just try to win games, but to use their talents for something greater than themselves.”
Doug Cole is a RODS athlete and a marketing executive with the JR Simplot Company. Cole became involved with RODS through his friend and training partner, Dandrea. When Cole gets a high-five from Anthony before or after races, he is reminded of the love inside each VIP athlete. T-shirts were donated by Cole and Simplot for the VIP students who participated in the soccer “Kick Off Game.” Brian and Jen Bailey, parents of Emma Bailey, Eagle High School soccer team member, purchased 15 soccer balls, which were autographed by soccer team members and given to the VIP students.
“Having my girls involved in the community and giving back helps to build a base for them to become strong, giving and compassionate young ladies in society,” shares Fornander. “We want to make a difference in the lives of many; one moment, one day and one game at a time. Our soccer team is rooted in these key principles; respect each member of our and the opposing team; respect peers, teachers and administrators; contribute to student body, the community; be open to learning, understanding and practicing the values of teamwork.”
“RODS Jr. features these amazing stories of how ‘kids are helping kids’ and in alignment with the RODS mission of building awareness for the adoption of orphans with Down syndrome,” Fornander explains. “It’s all about acceptance and inclusion, our youth working as a team to include all.”
“The best memory for me,” recalls Fornander of the September event, “were the smiles on the students’ faces as they were called up, honored and then kicked to score a goal! The pure happiness and joy was felt by all and brought tears to my eyes along with many others. Truly a magical night that all will remember.”