“And the winners of the silver medal are the Guilford/High Point Cougars,” bellowed the announcer at the 2013 Special Olympics NC Western Basketball & Cheerleading Tournament.
The crowd cheered as each athlete received their medal, but none louder than Andrew Rowley and Mitch Jackson, coaches of the Cougars basketball team. In just their second year at the helm, the two 15 year-olds had coached their team to a silver medal at the state-level tournament and they couldn’t have been prouder.
“There really isn’t any better feeling than watching them do so well. They all work so hard and have such great attitudes. I’ve played in and won big games in the past, but it’s nothing compared to watching this team do well,” said Andrew Rowley.
Rowley first got involved in Special Olympics in 2012 when he needed community service hours for school. His experience with people with intellectual disabilities (his sister has an intellectual disability) and his sports background made coaching basketball a perfect fit. But his coaching duties quickly became more than just a requirement.
“I really love the time I spend with my team. We work hard, but have so much fun at practice. I think I have a secret handshake with every player on the team!”
Rowley’s enthusiasm quickly spilled over to his best friend, Mitch Jackson. The two played football together for years and, it turns out, were naturals at splitting coaching duties.
“We know each other so well and work really well together so there was none of that initial awkwardness as we figured things out. We were able to jump right in and relate to our players really well,” said Rowley.
The duo’s work impressed more than just their players. Special Olympics Guilford/High Point volunteer Stephanie Hedgecock was inspired to see teenagers stepping up as coaches.
“Andrew and Mitch are two our most dedicated coaches. It is just so good to see two young men who are so into school and sports give up their time to coach Special Olympics athletes,” Hedgecock explained.
But Rowley is quick to point out that he and Jackson get just as much as they give.
“We all have problems that we think are a big deal, but then you get to practice and they all melt away. You leave feeling so good and you can’t help but smile!”
After the Cougars received their medals, Rowley and Jackson requested a team picture. This was a terrific end to a memorable season and it had to be captured!