Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Fifteen years ago today, I stood outside the doors of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, Il watching the long line of school buses, cars, and vans pull into the parking lot as adults, teens, and volunteers jumped out in anticipation of what awaited them inside. With the help of Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, various city agencies, Coca Cola, local sports franchises, Michael Jordan's Restaurant, and so many others, the inaugural S.M.A.R.T. Games Tournament presented by the S.M.A.R.T. Games Foundation was about to take place. I stood watching all these people arriving and I was brought to tears knowing that all these individuals and corporations had come to this event because of me! I had explained my vision to a person who told others who informed even more people and before long, all were gathered to hear my dream and do their part to make it a reality.

A few years prior to April 27, 1996, I had a dream where I was playing basketball with some friends. It was quite interesting to me because in this dream, as with all my dreams, I had full use of my eyes yet I was treated as though I was blind. Ever since losing my sight as a teen, I have always been fascinated by the fact that in every single dream I have, I am always sighted. I may hold a cane or even find myself using my hands to trail along walls, but I always have 20/20 vision. In this dream, everyone treated me like a blind person even though I could see just fine. I was playing basketball against boys I had known throughout my childhood. It was one against five. I held my own against them and when I awoke, I wondered, what did I just dream? What does it mean? I stayed in bed for a while attempting to figure out what message I needed to take from the dream. After some time, I leaped out of bed and said, I've got it! I will play basketball against my sighted friends. I will figure out a way to do this so that I will be accepted by others. Of course, classmates had always accepted me, but mentally I always felt that I was fighting an uphill battle to be considered "just another kid." I especially felt this way when it came to women. I felt that for all my positive qualities and for all my ability to get them to like me as a friend, I could never quite prove myself as a boy who could be their love interest. I felt that if somehow I could play basketball against their boyfriends, I would not only be on equal footing, but I would most likely romp therefore showing that I was more of an accomplished athlete than the boyfriends. Of course, I could not come out and say that so I said all the right things in which on some level I believed too, but not as strongly as the desire to get girls to notice me. I told my friend, Dave Melzer, that I wanted to set up a basketball game or tournament where blind and visually impaired teenagers could face off against their sighted friends. Through these games, we would hopefully break down barriers of stereotypes or fear of the unknown. As the song from the musical, South Pacific, states, "You've got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made." We could use these games as a vehicle for teens to tap into each others' similarities and in the process teach blind kids that the sighted are not the enemy while showing the sighted kids that the blind kids are just like you without sight. Dave told his friend, Mike, about my idea. Mike told his colleague, Mary, who in turn told others and before I knew it, the little idea I once had became a major event with the city and national companies backing it! Many months after I told Dave, I attended a planning meeting which was held in a conference room which was packed with at least twenty-five people from various agencies and companies all investing in this idea. It was Mike who came up with the name S.M.A.R.T. which stood for Sport For Mutual Admiration and Respect Amongst Teens. As the date was set, I went to my school to get teachers and students interested. In the meantime, I had hoped a grade school or high school would permit us to use their gym, but it turned out, that the folks at Maryville Academy had heard of my dream and volunteered their gyms. Since my original idea, the event had grown to include teens who had hearing impairments, mobility impairments, and who were cognitively delayed. By the time the date of the event arrived, thousands of people had committed to play, volunteer, and attend.

There I was at the front doors of Maryville Academy overjoyed that so many people had given me a chance. So many people had taken my idea and expanded it to a size I could not have begun to imagine. There I was as the kids filed in and I thought, Wow, there are so many girls here! Do they know I started this? Even before I step on to the court to shine, am I more impressive to them than their boyfriends will ever be? At the opening ceremonies, I was introduced to the crowd and I said a few words. Okay, I said many words. I tend to ramble. When I finished, I walked around personally thanking as many people as I could when my friend, Angela, walked up and said that at one point she looked around and noticed that only was everyone hanging on my every word, but there was not a dry eye in the house as I shared my story and reasons for creating this event. The cherry on top was having my team reached the championship game. A game in which we trailed by two at halftime and by five within only minutes to go before seizing control and closing the game by scoring thirteen straight points to win the gold medals handed out to each member of the winning team for each division. I received my moment in the sun, enabled many to have a wonderful experience, and found the confidence from the success of that day to then ask my friend, Angela, to be my prom date a few weeks later. It began with a dream and climaxed with a spectacular event much greater than I could have ever dreamed!

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