Middleboro swim team wins multiple golds at Special Olympics

Jun 25, 2024

MIDDLEBORO — The Middleboro YMCA Special Needs had been struggling for weeks to master turns in the pool, according to coach Mac Sprague.

But the five gold medals the team brought home at the Special Olympics of Massachusetts a few weeks back, showed they finally nailed the technique. 

The team participated in the Massachusetts Special Olympics Summer Games, which were held the weekend of June 7. 

A multi-day extravaganza that takes place at Harvard University athletic complex, the event brings in 1,500 athletes, 3,000 spectators and 1,000 volunteers, according to the Special Olympics. 

The Middleboro Special Needs Swim Team took home 10 bronze medals, six silver and one gold in the individual competitions, as well as three silver medals and one gold in the relay races. 

Watching his athletes master the turns during the summer games was a proud coach moment for Sprague. 

“When you’re learning how to interact, coach, teach and listen to a neurodiverse population, the small details sometimes get lost,” he said. 

One of those details, he said, was turns. Athletes had no problem swimming one lap, but the turn-arounds would take some time, he said. This was a particular challenge for the relay team, he said. 

But the team had a breakthrough moment just before the summer games, he said. “The last few weeks of practice… they were turning,” he said. 

Athletes showed what they were capable of at the summer games, and “it couldn’t have been on a bigger stage for them,” said Sprague. 

But beyond the medals and podium spots, what impresses Sprague most about his team is “the spirit of the athletes.”

They come from all different living situations, he said, but “despite what is going on in their life, they show up, they work and they do it joyfully, they listen, they’re respectful.” 

The team was asked to represent Plymouth County in the opening ceremony of the games, an experience that was “pretty cool” said Sprague. “Of all the teams that are in Plymouth County, ours was the one that was in the parade.”

This was a particularly special moment for the swimmers. 

“They were ecstatic, they were waving, being saluted, it was a big deal,” said Sprague.

Sprague said that from his perspective, for many athletes some of the more memorable experiences over the weekend occurred outside the pool. 

Swimming is “the book binding” that brings athletes together, he said, but forming relationships, being recognized and learning to be part of a team is “what’s inside the pages.” 

Without the help of fellow YMCA Specials Needs coaches Karen Gibson, Tom Lewis, Kathy Schofield and Scott Mcneil, celebrating swimmers on such a big stage would not have been possible, said Sprague.