A Smile You Can See From Space

By Alex Keyes

The time is 1:00 at the Frazer Center, a place where children and adults of all levels of ability and disability gather, learn, and flourish together. Lunch has been eaten, energy has been replenished, and it is time for the last part of the day, the recreation session, to begin. For some, this means playing Wii Bowling, going to the computer lab, or dancing along to the sounds of the Supremes. However, I often find myself outside during this period, removed from the amplified songs and bright television screens.

As I lead a group out the side door of the Center, the sun is shining, and smiles begin to widen on the adults’ faces. The excitement is mounting at this point, with each person anticipating the enjoyment that lies ahead. As we proceed into the parking lot, the group begins to diverge, with half going towards the basketball hoops and the other half to the bocce court.

Those that head to the bocce area, collectively known as the Frazer Center Dream Team, are a part of the Special Olympics, which occurs twice a year in North Georgia. Some of the participants that are playing are seasoned veterans, while others are learning the game for the first time. Those who have played for a while, like Betty or Maurice, consistently toss the ball on target. And when someone doesn’t have a particularly good throw, the veterans are quick to give a tidbit of helpful advice or guidance. During play, when Maurice’s team wins a round, him and his girlfriend, Karina, will both confidently say, “Red team got it.” The rounds are all very similar, with an assortment of larger spheres being thrown at a smaller ball, but the joy derived not just from victory, but also from simply playing the game, is constant.

Just a few yards away from these athletes are the basketball players. While they don’t quite have a Special Olympics team quite yet, they are still able to demonstrate unique styles and talents. For example, Thomas will shoot from the same exact spot on the pavement every single time, like a soccer throw-in, and he will make it every single time. Toverice will take the basketball and line drive throw it as hard as he can at the backboard, getting just as excited when he misses as when it goes in. Either way, he will always award anywhere from 20 to 150 points to Moesha, of ‘90s television fame. However, the most interesting member of the basketball group hardly plays basketball at all. Leonard, who is deaf and non-verbal, can be found having a catch with one of the staff members, colloquially known as “guy Kortney.” A small yellow, rubber, spiky ball is thrown back and forth between the two of them, with Leonard never actually catching it, but instead chasing after it with a grin you could see from space and laughter you could hear from Wisconsin.

Leonard smiles quite often, but never quite as broadly as he does during this recreation period. It is a time when I see genuine happiness emanating from everyone who participates. While this seems to be the case during most of the day, it is most apparent to me when we are outside. I don’t know if it is the sun, shining brightly and with such warmth, or the games that are being played, but something about this activity session is special, and I’ve missed it during this winter season.