Unified Starting XI - 2019 - 6.23.19 - Sporting Kansas City

'The opportunity afforded to our athletes through this partnership has opened doors as well as eyes.'

June 23, 2019.

Perhaps another Sunday to most, but to Special Olympics Ohio, Columbus Crew SC, and presenting partner Acura, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to say the least.

In partnership with ESPN and MLS WORKS - Major League Soccer's Social Responsibility platform - Crew SC, Acura, and Special Olympics have teamed up to unite people with and without intellectual disabilities by fostering and promoting an environment of social inclusion through the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program.

Following Sunday's home match against Sporting Kansas City, Special Olympics Ohio, Crew SC's Unified soccer team, will compete against Special Olympics Kansas/Missouri in the team's first of two exhibitions scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches.

Ryan Phillips, Director of Special Olympics, Community Recreation & Aquatics at the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, spoke to the uniqueness of the partnership and what it means to all those involved.

"The opportunity afforded to our athletes through this partnership has opened doors as well as eyes," Phillips said. "From first times on airplanes, hotels and cities to meeting teams, fans and life moments; I have experienced with our team the impact of this program first hand. Moments that make you cry tears of pride when Crew SC players are embracing and living Soccer For All alongside of our Special Olympics athletes.

"We throw around phrases like 'the best ever' far too easily. When I say this is a once in a lifetime experience, I mean it. Thank you to all Crew SC family and fans. For Columbus!"

As part of the Unified Exchange program, Crew SC is dedicated to providing Unified athletes with unique experiences, such as a jersey unveiling, a professional photo shoot, flights and hotel accommodation alongside the First Team, recreational activities, and matchday recognition. Additionally, Special Olympics Ohio will be outfitted in authentic uniforms provided by adidas.

The goal of the Unified Exchange program is not only to provide Special Olympic athletes with top-level training and competitive experiences, but also excellent life experiences that they might not otherwise engage in.

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