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Governor's Academy hosts Special Olympics State Soccer Cup for 31st straight year

Daily News of Newburyport - 11/8/2018

Nov. 08--BYFIELD -- It started as a simple partnership. The Special Olympics Massachusetts had recently started offering soccer and planned to hold a state-wide championship tournament for its athletes. Before long, the organization found a home at the Governor's Academy in Byfield.

Thirty years later, that partnership has blossomed into a cherished tradition, both for the Special Olympics' athletes and the Governor's students who have turned the annual event into an integral part of the school experience.

This past Sunday, the Special Olympics hosted its annual State Soccer Cup at Governor's Academy for the 31st year in a row. The event attracted more than 900 athletes representing 65 teams from across the state, and was put on with the help of nearly 360 student, faculty and staff volunteers from Governor's and the surrounding schools.

The Cup was primarily organized by Governor's seniors Julia Russolillo of Georgetown and Alex DiBlasi of Boxford, who served as student co-directors. Both said getting the opportunity to co-direct the event had been a goal of theirs for a long time, with DiBlasi saying the Special Olympics Cup was actually a major factor in his coming to Governor's in the first place.

"When I was applying my older brother attended the school, so I knew about it, he was a part of the management team," DiBlasi said. "That's why I applied as a junior, and I was really happy when I got it as a senior. All four years were leading up to this moment so I was excited to have gotten that point."

The two co-directors, along with faculty advisor Anna Finch, helped organize all aspects of the massive day-long event, planning for months in advance with the help of a 64-person management team comprised of fellow Governor's upperclassmen. Preparations included four pre-event meetings and a lot of behind the scenes wrangling, but the experience of seeing everything come together on Sunday made it well worthwhile.

"For the two months leading up to it it was a lot of making emails and the stuff behind the scenes, but I think the day of was very rewarding," Russolillo said. "It made all of the hours and hours of emails and making calls worth it, especially when you talk to the athletes and you realize played a part in helping make this happen."

The day started with the Opening Ceremonies, in which the athletes paraded onto the field accompanied by a large presence of law enforcement officials from the State Police, where Russolillo's father is a troop leader in Danvers. The ceremonies also included a helicopter flyover, a performance by the Governor's pep band, and a citation from Governor Charlie Baker honoring Special Olympics Massachusetts was presented to Special Olympics Massachusetts president and CEO Mary Beth McMahon as well.

After the ceremonial torch lighting, the athletes split off into their teams and the competitions began. The Cup included various divisions based on ability, with some playing 5 on 5 and others 7 on 7, and there were also unified divisions in which Special Olympic athletes competed alongside athletes without intellectual disabilities.

"One of the highlights is how afterwards all the athletes will thank you and tell you about their victories," Russolillo said. "And even if they didn't win they're all still really positive."

Finch, who has served as the event's faculty advisor for the past 14 years, said the students did a fantastic job organizing the event and that it's clear how important the event is to the students who help put it on. DiBlasi concurred, noting that the conditions for the event were perfect and it was an enjoyable day for everyone involved.

"Everything went really smoothly, the weather was great, you could tell the students and the athletes were really excited to be a part of it," DiBlasi said. "It's a special day, it shows you our commitment to the Special Olympics at our school."

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(c)2018 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

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