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Game Changer: Volunteer Linda Flynn

Linda Flynn is a longtime volunteer with Special Olympics Massachusetts. She currently leads the Pioneer Valley (PV) Green Monsters softball team as their Local Program Coordinator (and even added bocce and corn hole for the team last summer!)

“I started in Special Olympics about 25 years ago when a family friend was looking for Unified partners (teammates) for their softball team. Her brother was on the team, as an athlete, and she had just taken over coaching it. I’ve played softball all my life so thought that it was a good fit. I started with attending the qualifiers session and then state games at UMASS. I had no idea what I was in for and it was a big commitment for me as my kids were young. It started with opening ceremonies and parachuters flying down to greet the athletes along with the torch run. It was very impressive and watching the athletes’ faces and excitement was invigorating. Saturday was filled with games and then a dinner and dance. Sunday was more games and awards. Staying in the dorms in 90 degree weather was a challenge but we got through it. The athletes had such a rewarding and fun weekend. After that I was hooked. I never thought volunteering would be so fulfilling.

“Our team is like a big extended family. Some of the athletes have been with the team for longer than I have, while the new ones fit right in, many times getting their parents involved as well. My dad keeps score for the team, my brother played, and my nephew plays. We’ve had coaches and Unified partners’ kids and even grandkids play. What I love about our team is that we are very close knit. We watch out for each other and we’ve been through a lot together, good times and bad.


Linda shares some of her favorite moments with the PV Green Monsters:


 

“Over the last few years, I evolved into mostly coaching although still like to pitch when needed. My favorite Special Olympics moment was one a few years back. We were playing in the state tournament in Marlboro for the first time and Marvin, one of the coaches, had recently been diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t make the games. Marvin had coached and played on the team long before I joined and everyone looked up to him. The team, especially the athletes, were upset when I told them the news. We were well-matched in the competition. It was the second game of the day, extremely hot and we were tied with only one inning left. Freddie gets up to bat. Freddie can usually get on base but rarely more than first. Freddie is our energizer bunny, very outgoing, always moving, jumping up and down as he plays third base. He gets to the plate and says, ‘Marvin, this one is for you,’ and slams the ball. He got to third base and continued home. On his way to home base he was so excited he did a flip in the air, got up and scored the winning run. Both teams were cheering for him. It was the best moment ever. The first thing Freddie wanted to do was call Marvin and tell him, which I immediately did! That’s what Special Olympics is all about.

“Volunteering is rewarding, a lot more than I thought it would be. It’s definitely a lot of work and a big commitment but it’s well worth it to see our team have fun and thrive. My favorite part of playing softball was teaching athletes how to pitch, putting myself out of a job! We have two really good pitchers now and they are excited about it. Very few teams have athletes pitch so it’s a big accomplishment for them. I also like making the year-end awards. We always took pictures at the state games and one year I decided to make a collage of pictures for each player. That’s been a huge hit.

“I’ve been surprised with the amount of comradery among the teams. One year we were getting killed every game. At the end of one game, the Amherst team asked us if we just wanted to play for fun. We found an empty field and they let all our athletes get hits and get on base. It made them all feel so good about the weekend. It’s something I will never forget and try to pay it forward when I can.”

 

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