Above: EGHS Unified participants Jessica Hannon and Addi Fain during the Unified Champion School celebration last spring. The strength of the Unified program – an arm of Special Olympics – convinced officials it was time for EG to have a team of its own. Photo by Chuck Nadeau
Cornhole tournament this Sunday looks to raise money for equipment, uniforms, etc.
For decades, children and adults with developmental disabilities looking to get involved in Special Olympics have had to join a team in another community but that is now changing, with the recent formation of a Special Olympics team for East Greenwich.
The new team’s formation follows the huge success in recent years of the Unified sports teams at both Cole and EGHS, which was named a Unified Champion School last year in a ceremony attended by national Special Olympics head Tim Shriver himself. It was after that celebration that some Special Olympics officials asked Patty Carosotto if she would be interested in heading up the EG team. Carosotto has been the driving force behind the high school’s strong Unified Volleyball team, which has won numerous state championships.
In a recent interview, Carosotto said the decision wasn’t hard.
“I felt like, we really need to do this and it’s a long time coming,” she said. In addition, she said, “I saw there was a need to continue to promote Unified sports.”
(Unified sports pair people with disabilities with people who do not have disabilities; traditional Special Olympics teams do not include people without disabilities on the team.)
Until now, many EG Special Olympics athletes have joined the North Kingstown team* (SONK), in part because the founder of that team, Lisa McKay, was the adaptive physical education teacher for EG schools. But these days, SONK is near capacity and is focused on serving residents of its own community.
Still, building a brand new program is no small feat – EG’s team is starting small. Carosotto said they would field a Unified Bocce team this fall, offering Unified and traditional basketball this winter and swimming and track and field in the spring. If all goes according to plan, the team will compete in the annual games at URI in early June.
Carosotto said they want to build on the strength of the EGSD Unified program by bringing skills programs into the schools for students ages 7 to 14. It doesn’t hurt that EG’s athletic director, Casie Rhodes, spent many years working for Special Olympics Rhode Island, so there’s a lot of institutional appreciation for providing opportunities for those with developmental disabilities.
To kick things off, there is a cornhole tournament fundraiser at Cragan Field this Sunday from noon to 4:30 p.m. to raise money for equipment, uniforms and site rentals. But the team will need more than money. Carosotto said getting volunteers on board was critical for the team’s long-term success. The team will be leaning on family members of athletes to help with coaching, organizing and/or fundraising, and community members with an interest are invited to get involved too.
“I have faith in the East Greenwich community that they are going to come forward,” Carosotto said. “I’ve already had people reach out to ask how they can help – people I didn’t even know.”
Carosotto has a core team of volunteers helping her get the team up and running, including Staci Kolb (parent of an athlete and SORI board member and past president), Meghan Giannelli and Emma Giannelli (both Unified volunteers – Emma was a Unified partner before graduating from EGHS in 2021 right), and Howard Faunce, who runs EG’s Challenger program (which runs baseball, soccer, basketball and flag football teams for children with DD).
Carosotto has been coaching Unified Volleyball at EGHS since 2010 and her own son, Matthew, just graduated last June. It may have been a time to take a step back. But the call to this work was too strong.
“How could I turn that down? I can’t – it’s just in my heart and my soul,” she said, before joking, “And I have the blessings of my husband.”
*Including my son, James.