GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — This weekend marks a big anniversary for Bill Dombrowski and Special Olymipcs Michigan — 50 years since he created the first team in the state. Friends, athletes and coaches from over the years all gathered to celebrate the major milestone.
Coach Bill's story goes back to the early 1970s. He wanted to find a way for people with different abilities to play the sports they love, but at the time that didn't exist.
So, he started the first Special Olympics team in Michigan at Lincoln School in Grand Rapids.
It was a basketball team — a great first start, but in the beginning they didn't have any jerseys to wear, or any teams to compete against.
Fast forward 50 years, and now there are more than 100 Special Olympics teams in Michigan.
The growth of the program is amazing, but Bill said watching the growth of the players is what it's all about.
“We had that happen with a gentleman named Larry," Bill said. "He got into the game, and whenever he got the ball he would pass it away because he got scared. Well, he got the ball toward the end of the game. All of a sudden he started to dribble. He took the shot and it went in. We lost by a bunch of points, but that was one of my highlights, is remembering that — we just kept encouraging Larry, and encouraging him. He finally got in, and he finally scored. You’d think he won the NBA Championship.”
Bill said, even after 50 years, moments like those — where athletes gain self-confidence and grow smiles on their faces — never get old.
He saw plenty of that Saturday, with the 50-year celebration ending with a basketball game at the Special Olympics Inclusion Center.
Bill said the key to loving what you do, and finding success, is treating every day like it's your first day on the job. By doing that, Bill said he's never lost his sense of purpose, passion or commitment.
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