Game On – With Super Bowl Champion Ed McCaffrey | Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Game On – With Super Bowl Champion Ed McCaffrey

 

This article was published in the award-winning Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read all the articles and get future issues delivered to your door!

Taking the field is a momentous, confidence-building event for any young athlete. Super bowl champion and former Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey is dedicated to ensuring children and young adults with down syndrome don’t miss out.

When Global Down Syndrome Foundation President and CEO Michelle Sie Whitten first met McCaffrey, there must have been an electric force field around them. The two high-energy, get-thingsdone people started discussing their passion for equality and fighting discrimination. The conversation turned to making Colorado the best place for people with Down syndrome to live and resulted in Global establishing the Dare to Play Football Camp with Ed McCaffrey as its featured coach.

“I’ve played football my whole life, and I’ve been coaching camps for 10 years,” McCaffrey said. “When I found out from Michelle that there aren’t many opportunities for kids with Down syndrome to play team sports, specifically football, we got together and decided, ‘Let’s make a football camp for them.’ They’re having fun, they’re making friends — they’re playing football for the same reasons we all started playing football.”

LEARNING FROM A LEGEND

Global’s Dare to Play Football Camp lets participants learn from the best, including McCaffrey, who’s no ordinary instructor. The 13-season NFL all-star has played with the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and Denver Broncos. A three-time Super Bowl champion, McCaffrey is one of only 31 NFL pla yers to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He’s been a cornerstone of Global’s Dare to Play Football Camp every year since it started in 2010.

“I look forward to it every year,” McCaffrey said.

“What a blessing. Global organizes such a great opportunity for so many individuals with Down syndrome to play the great game of football, while also spreading awareness in the community about all the wonderful things individuals with Down syndrome can do. We’re working to dispel a lot of negative stereotypes.”

Each year, the camp attracts other professional volunteer coaches. In addition to McCaffrey, the star studded 2017 roster included Brandon Stokley, Tyler Polumbus, Shaquil Barrett, and Todd Davis, who have eight Super Bowl rings between them. Past pros include Ben Garland, Danny Trevathan, Chris Kuper, Britton Colquitt, Orlando Franklin, Malik Jackson, Ben Hamilton, Jack Del Rio, Brian Dawkins, and Joel Dreessen, who had nothing but praise for McCaffrey’s coaching and their experience at the event. “I’m blown away by it,” Dreessen told The Denver Post. “Ed McCaffrey was one of my heroes growing up, too. I always wanted to be just like him. So, to see him have his hand in something that gives back like this, it gives me more reason to really like it.” Global’s Dare to Play Football Camp is held at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and each participant is paired with a high school football player, or “Pal,” for camp practices and the big game day. The Denver Broncos Cheerleaders are equally important partners for Global’s Dare to Cheer Program, which runs simultaneously with the football camp.

The big game day has a dramatic opening, with the Denver Broncos Thunderstorm skydivers landing on the field, and it goes on to feature two scrimmages, lots of cheerleading, cheering from hundreds of fans, and the Denver Broncos mascot, Miles.

“It’s the smiles on the campers’ faces when they catch a ball or score a touchdown,” McCaffrey said, when asked about his favorite moments from the camps. “When they pick their teammate up who has fallen down, when they show compassion and joy and enthusiasm, it’s just that look that you see from them.”

“Ed makes fun of me because I don’t know a lot about football or who the celebrity coaches are,” Whitten said. “But it is obvious even to me what an impact this has on our self-advocates . The one thing that took me aback w as several of the fathers in par ticular getting teary eyed because they thought their sons with Down syndrome would never play football. I’m so glad w e turned that stereotype on its head!”

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE TEAM!

Studies have shown that physical activity builds self-esteem and boosts feelings of well-being, and so do connections.

“My favorite part is the practice time with my buddies and Pal and the game day,” said self-advocate Ben.

“I truly enjoyed helping coach the campers and getting to know them,” said Tanner, a Valor Christian Pal. “It was an amazing experience — one I will never forget. I can’t wait for next year!”

Twenty-one-year-old Maya, who has attended every Global Dare to Cheer Camp since 2010, is another shining example of the confidence physical activity offers. “My favorite part is the football team!” she shared. “What I like most about Dare to Cheer is my friends. My favorite cheer is ‘Blue and White, Fight Team Fight’.”

When asked who her favorite Bronco is, there was no hesitation. “Ed McCaffrey!”

ALL IN THE FAMILY

For Ed McCaffrey, sports and giving back is a family affair. His wife, Lisa, was a soccer star at Stanford University, and their four sons are following in dad’s footsteps. Max is a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. This fall, Christian began his first season with the Carolina Panthers, and Dylan began playing in the Big 10 as a University of Michigan Wolverine. Luke, the youngest, still plays quarterback, receiver, and defensive back for Valor Christian but has received scholarship offers from eight college football heavyweights, including Michigan, where his brother plays, and The Ohio State University.

The four siblings have been Pals for Global’s football camps every year, and last year, Christian flew back from Stanford to help coach. Christian shared with ESPN and Down Syndrome World™ magazine how the camp has enriched his life and helped him create a lifelong friendship with camper Dusty, who happens to have Down syndrome (these stories are available at globaldownsyndrome.org/daretoplaymccaffrey). The key with the McCaffreys is that they don’t treat people with Down syndrome any differently, and they believe deeply in Ed McCaffrey’s wisdom.

“Kids with Down syndrome want to play sports for the same reasons everyone else does,” he said. “They want to have fun, they want to make friends, and they want to be part of a team.

A VEHICLE FOR OUTREACH

Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Health and Wellness Programs include the Dare to Play Football Camps, the Dare to Cheer Camps, the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Dance Class, the Dare to Play Soccer Camp, and the Dare to Play Tennis Camp. Nearly 50 percent of the participants are on full or partial scholarships. The programs provide a great sports experience and allow Global an opportunity to provide information about life-changing medical care and research and connect families with resources. Nearly 100 percent of children and young adults involved in Global’s Health and Wellness Programs have received medical services at Global’s affiliate, the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

The article was published in
Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read the whole magazine and get future magazines delivered to your door!  

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