Eagles Golf

I don’t know a thing about golf. I know people love it, like my Aunt Nancy and President Obama, but to me it’s a dry land sport that I’m just fine without. Sure, my high school friends used to caddy in summer and we used to end up drunk on golf courses at midnight, but other than that, it’s kind of like a parallel universe.

Until now. See, I’ve been thinking about Special Olympics for Jack. He’s ready to be on a team and he likes basketball so I signed up and found out there’s a full-year program in Seattle run by a long-time volunteer named Mary Ann Monaghan.

But it’s not basketball season. That’s from December – March. B-ball will have to wait. What season is it? Golf! We’ve been twice now and it’s awesome, even though I don’t know a putter from a wood.

First, Mary Ann is phenomenal. She answered my email right away. Which is huge.

Those of you with special needs kids know this. When you get the list, whether it’s physical therapists or after-school programs, your motivation is finding a good fit for your kid. You start with names on a page, ready to ask the right questions, ready to explain. You call around and you get a lot of no room or nobody home. But you still hope for the perfect fit.

Mary Ann’s program is called Eagles. Presumably to send the message that these kids can soar. I like that. God knows they get the opposite message from so many other things. She told me she’s volunteered for 40 years… She also mentioned she has 9 brothers and sisters, so a picture began forming in my mind – gigantic Irish family with a big heart for charity. I know this family.

Mary Ann’s program is called Eagles. Presumably to send the message that these kids can soar. I like that. God knows they get the opposite message from so many other things. She told me she’s volunteered for 40 years. Whoa! She started in 9th grade for CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). She also mentioned she has 9 brothers and sisters, so a picture began forming in my mind – gigantic Irish family with a big heart for charity. I know this family. It’s mine too (mine’s less gigantic). So we went to Eagles Golf for the first time, on a Wednesday in late June.

Jack stands there with a too-big club, and a lefty one at that, and he’s not lefty. After getting a little help, he turns his hands the right way. You and I know how to swing a golf club, a baseball bat. It comes naturally. But Jack has to learn all these things. He swings and gets a few across the putting green. He’s pretty elated. Mary Ann is encouraging and consistent. Two other sweet souls with disabilities play alongside Jack. It’s a friendly scene and all I know is this is really good for him. The practice, the perseverance, the friendship. The overcoming not doing it well at first. I know we’ll come back next week and all summer. All of a sudden, I love golf!

You and I know how to swing a golf club, a baseball bat. It comes naturally. But Jack has to learn all these things. He swings and gets a few across the putting green. He’s pretty elated. Mary Ann is encouraging and consistent. Two other sweet souls with disabilities play alongside Jack. It’s a friendly scene and all I know is this is really good for him… All of a sudden, I love golf!

Mary Ann tells me she’ll find some smaller clubs for next week. I don’t doubt that she will. She says, “Don’t go out and buy expensive equipment,” which is good advice. She tells me they scour the thrift stores for equipment and I imagine a garage full of well-loved sporting goods. She assures me she’ll come up with some kid-sized clubs.

So Jack is on his way in Special Olympics. Thank you, Mary Ann and thank you, Eunice Kennedy! There was a time when we tried Jack on a “normal” kids soccer team. Disaster. He was more interested in knocking over the cones and climbing over the dividers than listening to a coach. But these are our people. And I’m good with that.

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