At The University of Southern Mississippi football is a big deal. M.M. Roberts Stadium on the Hattiesburg campus is nicknamed “The Rock” and SMTTT (Southern Miss To The Top) can be found on car tags and bumper stickers throughout the state of Mississippi.
The Southern Miss football team has recently experienced a series of disappointing losses. However, on Sept. 25 when the STEP UP (Starting Today Empowering Peers through Uniting and Participating) to Leadership Council hosted the Arc’s Rise and Shine adult program, winning ruled the day. The STEP UP to Leadership Council is composed of youth and young adults with and without disabilities. Council members serve as leaders within their schools, colleges/universities, and communities.
Within the confines of “The Rock,” the two teams of youth and young adults with and without disabilities displayed the type of winning attitude even Knute Rockne, former Notre Dame football Coach and considered as one of the greatest coaches of all time, would have applauded.
The game-plan for this event was to have fun. The pre-game preparation began with Southern Miss football players signing autographs and posing for pictures. Next, a tour of the athletic facility lobby, which contains the jerseys and photographs of the Golden Eagles’ most successful teams and players, was given.
Both teams hit the locker room and equipment room. As the doors from the equipment room opened and revealed the expansiveness of the stadium and its impeccably groomed field, it seemed as though one could almost hear the fans cheering and the band playing.
The STEP UP to Leadership Council led the opposing team onto the field and the game began. It was a special type of game. Regardless of which team the youth leaders played for, they all played together. Each individual team member found a place on the field to shine, whether it was throwing passes, scoring touchdowns, or cheering from the sidelines. At the end of the game there was only one score, one team, and one win. The game was played with dignity and teamwork. It was not an exhibition of skill, but of amazing will.
For more information on the STEP UP Council, a subcommittee of the Institute for Disabilities Studies’ overall advisory council, visit the website at www.usm.edu/disability-studies/stepup or contact the staff liaison Dr. Jerry R. Alliston at firstname.lastname@example.org.