Common Ground: Commentary on Dwarfism, Disability and Chicago
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Men's Gold Medal Soccer Match
My wife and I sat in the first row in the center section of bleachers at Demartin Stadium on the Michigan State University Campus. Hundreds of screaming fans sat to our left, to our right, and behind us, stomping their feet, waving flags, and blowing horns in support of the Women's Soccer Teams from the United States and from Great Britain. In the match to determine the Gold Medal for the 2013 World Dwarf Games, the two teams were locked in a tie at the end of regulation and had just started a round of penalty kicks to determine the winner. I don't know the stadium capacity, but the seats were packed, not just with hundreds of athletes and their families who had made the trip to East Lansing for the events, but with Michigan State students and local residents who had read about the championship match. Sparty, the Michigan State Mascot, also made an appearance. He was walking the sidelines, encouraging noise from the crowd and showing support for the two teams. Just before one of the United States players lined up to take what could have been a game deciding kick, a young man who was a United States fan stood up in front of the right side of the bleachers, faced the fans sitting in front of him, and started to belt out the cords of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Several years ago, "Seven Nation Army" replaced the musical theme of "The Empire" from the Star Wars Series as the refrain that marching bands would lock into just before a pivotal football or soccer play. I never understood why marching bands across the country, at sporting events across the country, would all play the same song at critical moments, but the power of the music soon moved inside of me.
Sparty with some of the USA Junior Players
The World Dwarf Games are held every four years. They hadn't been hosted by the United States since 1993. And it was East Lansing that hosted the first organized athletic competition exclusively for people with dwarfism in 1985. More than 400 athletes from 17 countries had registered to participate, a higher number than any previous World Games. On paper, the 2013 World Dwarf Games were a history making event. And for many, the event would be life changing. But my wife and I were staying at the Holiday Inn Express, six miles away from the Athletes Village at Case Hall and from the main hotel, the Marriott. Commuting to and from the campus for my events, I felt like a commuter student. I loved the games and got to know my team mates but didn't become part of the athlete community. But at the Gold Medal Women's Soccer Match of the 2013 World Dwarf
Games, when the USA Fan started to inflect the White Stripes, the tone
of the week changed for me. For the first time, I felt the energy of
the games on an emotional level. I felt a part of something that was more significant than the Great Britain Soccer Team and the United States Soccer Team. The energy flowing through the stadium had brought the international community together.
Juniors Soccer Team after their Gold Medal Match
The teams that lost the soccer matches that night will feel the sting of the disappointments for a long time. For some of the players, the pain may linger for four years until they have the opportunity to avenge the losses at the World Games in 2017. But each player was part of an effort that brought the world together, something in itself worthy of a gold medal.