The South Sioux City Unified Partners soccer team coached by Marla Grier has qualified for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.
The games will take place July 1-6 in Seattle. More than 4,000 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will take part in the competition, according to information provided on the Special Olympics USA Games website.
“We have dominated soccer in the Midwest, I know Nebraska was put into the competition really early this year,” said Grier.
Unified Partners sports differ from the traditional Special Olympics sports in that half of the team is not disabled. Instead, they are friends and family members of the traditional athletes.
For Team Nebraska Soccer from South Sioux City, there are 12 athletes on the team, six Unified and six traditional.
“Unified sports tend to bring the level of our traditional athletes up,” said Grier, explaining that the addition of Unified athletes poses more of a challenge and increases the competitive nature of the traditional athletes.
Grier has been a coach for 37 years and is the head of the local Special Olympics program. She also previously coached South Sioux City High School soccer for 17 years and has been the president of the South Sioux City Soccer Club for about 20 years
Grier's favorite part about coaching Special Olympics teams is seeing the increase in confidence among the players.
“You just see such a difference in their personalities as it goes on,” she said. “I've seen it change people's lives.”
Traditional athlete Ricky Rodriguez, 17, said he is excited to compete in the games.
“I'm looking forward just to see something new, not Nebraska,” he said. “It's my first time getting to a bigger platform.”