This past season was Wayne Langdon’s first working with Special Olympics Newmarket as the head coach of the softball team and he calls the experience “enlightening.”
With 20 athletes in the softball program and one practice per week, the team does an hour of skills development and an hour of a simulated game, and it paid off quickly this season with the amount of success the team found.
The season usually runs from the long weekend in May through Labour Day and this year the team played in two local tournaments, one in Peterborough, where they won a silver medal, and another in Ajax, where they brought home gold.
“It was really good,” said Langdon. “The athletes really thought it was amazing.”
The winning play the team found locally extended their season and took them out of the country when they were invited to play in the Special Olympics North American Championship in Lynchburg, Virginia in mid-September. They played against 10 other teams over the weekend long tournament and weren’t just among the best, they were the best.
Langdon’s squad ended up playing a team from Atlanta, who they had previously won and lost to in the tournament, for the gold medal and won 15-4 to bring home the title of North American champions.
“At the championship game, the parents couldn’t shut up! They were on their feet and cheering constantly,” said Langdon. “When we ended up winning the game, they went absolutely berserk. When you have that type of crowd behind you, it makes that on field experience that much more special for them.”
There were only two teams from Canada at the tournament and so the athletes really leaned into showing off their patriotism by bringing the Canadian flag everywhere with them.
“It was like we were representing Canada,” Langdon said. “They absolutely loved that.”
After the experience in Lynchburg, Langdon says he has all kinds of pictures from the weekend that he’ll treasure forever. Once they were back in Newmarket, he had a party at his house to celebrate and set up a PowerPoint showing the pictures all night and the team loved it.
Next year, he plans to focus even more on skill development to help the athletes get an even more enjoyable experience.
He said it’s not about where the ball goes or how far it goes, but having them just develop incrementally because they’re so happy when they see that improvement.
Langdon says he’s learned more from this group of athletes than he could ever teach them because of the outlook that they have while playing the sport.
“They’re so happy to be out and among friends and learning new skills,” he said. “They couldn’t care less if they win or lose or what position they’re playing, they’re just happy to be playing baseball.”
Having coached baseball for about 25 years, when Langdon’s son aged out with minor baseball in Newmarket, he missed being involved.
After about four years of being out of it, a friend of his who had been coaching the Special Olympics Newmarket softball program asked if he wanted to get involved and he’s happy he did.
It’s about having a fun experience and building relationships, Langdon said as opposed to being all about winning, which makes it feel even more special.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we won or lost all of our games,” he said. “They all make friends so quickly and just want to have fun.”
Newmarket Special Olympics has been around for 30 years and currently has 50 volunteers supporting more than 200 athletes across 10 sports with some participating in multiple and Langdon says it’s a way for the parents to drop their kids off and know they’re in a safe and fun environment.
“The parents also get to see their kids enjoying themselves,” he said.
Learn more about Special Olympics Newmarket here.