Imagine going through the adoption process, excited to add two new members to your family, and being told that the two boys you were adopting, “had issues.” That happened to George Coffey when he adopted his two sons.
“Issues. That was the term they used,” said George. But he knew that his sons didn’t have issues, they were human beings that had talents, goals, and passions. And while one of his sons took no interest in sports, one loved everything about the sports world. The challenge George faced was finding a way to get him involved.
“We tried him in Little League, but they wouldn’t let him play because they didn’t know how to coach someone with special needs,” he said. “Every level of sports, as he got older, we ran into the same issues.”
That’s when they found Special Olympics. George learned that the next town over from where they lived had a Unified softball team. Without knowing the difference between a Traditional Special Olympics Softball team, and a Unified Softball team, George took his son James to practice, just excited to have the opportunity.
But when George arrived at the field nearly thirty years ago, little did he know the commitment he was signing up for. We have a motto at Special Olympics Massachusetts: Find us, stay with us, grow with us. One of our biggest missions is to have families and athletes find our programs, continue to participate, and then expand how they are involved within the Special Olympics community. And that’s exactly how George went from bringing his son to one softball practice, to being involved for more than three decades.
“We went over to the practice, and this guy Stephen was a one-man band running everything by himself,” he said. “They were doing a practice on a Saturday morning and all the kids were in the field not doing much of anything because Stephen was on the phone trying to raise funds.”
At that time, Special Olympics Massachusetts wasn’t in a position to always provide sporting equipment or uniforms to local programs or teams; so according to George, Stephen spent a lot of time on the phone trying to raise money and secure donations.
“So, I went over to him, tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he wanted me to handle practice,” said George. “Stephen said, ‘yeah, thank you!’ And at the second practice I got introduced as the new head coach of the softball team.”
After later finding a Special Olympics program in Whitman that had since started up, George got involved in coaching soccer and floor hockey, he brought softball to the Whitman program, and recruited various parents to volunteer and help coach. And eventually, George became the Local Program Coordinator for Whitman.
Two years after he introduced softball to the Whitman program, he got a call from the CEO of Special Olympics MA at the time asking if the team would like to represent them in a tournament. After George said that they’d love to, they found out that it was in Illinois.
“There’s a recurring theme here that throughout my years with Special Olympics, I got sucked into things,” said George. “I never said no because, it was all about the kids. They just want to be out with their buddies playing ball.”
George Coffey found us, he stayed with us, and he certainly grew with us over the past thirty years. And now, he’s passing on the torch to a new local program coordinator, whose daughter is an athlete in the Whitman program.
“In the past I’ve wanted to retire because I’m seventy-five years old, I’m not a kid,” he said. “When I was in the service I was exposed to Agent Orange, and it has just been doing a number on me; so it’s really got to the point where I have no choice.”
The parent who is taking over as the local program coordinator for Whitman is Jen Newcomb, who George plans to help train and provide the necessary tools to set her up for success in the new role.
“I know I’m going to be butting in, being a pain in the butt,” he said. “But by the time softball comes around, I will have my folding chair at practice, sitting there, and I told all the coaches that I am going to rag on them from the sidelines.”