Special Olympics Michigan impacts the lives of many young athletes, but it’s the athletes who aren’t participating who might be most affected during the summer games.
In 2010, Central Michigan University tight end Deon Butler didn’t know volunteering for three days in the summer would forever change his life.
“When I first started I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Butler said. “After doing it for a couple of years, it really turned out to be the best thing in my life.”
When he arrived on campus for Special Olympics Michigan wearing his No. 15 jersey, Butler was greeted by smiling kids wanting to meet him.
“They come up to me and make me feel special,” Butler said. “Anybody who can come put a smile on my face, if I can put one on their face, it’s the best thing in the world.”
One of the competitions the football team hosts is the powerlifting event. The players put on the weights and motivate the competitors who in turn motivate the Chippewas.
Many players see the athletes compete; they see them giving 100 percent in each lift. It drives the players volunteering when it comes time for them to train for the upcoming football season.
“The football team and I are amazed how much they lift,” Butler said. “Even the ones who can’t lift that much, they give their best effort. It opens our eyes that we can push for more in our daily lives like they push themselves in their lives.”
Butler’s experience isn’t out of the ordinary.
Head football coach Dan Enos has seen similar results out of all his athletes who have volunteered at the summer games.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of gratification our players and coaches get out of helping others out,” Enos said. “A lot of the guys don’t know what to expect going into it. When they’re done, the feedback we get is unbelievable.”
The football program is involved in the community in many ways. They’ve been known to help out at the soup kitchen, make hospital visits and help out people around the community.
But there is something special about Special Olympics.
“Having Special Olympics on our campus is a unique thing,” Enos said. “To have the state summer games here is pretty cool and it is something we’ve been involved in since I’ve been here. I don’t who gets more out of it, the athletes themselves or our players.”
Butler would argue the football players get more out of it thanks to the unique friendships that form between the football team and the special-needs athletes.
During his first year helping out, he met a swimmer, Diane. The two have stayed in contact.
“She is an amazing woman,” Butler said. “That atmosphere around people and the impact (Special Olympics) has on people by volunteering and being yourself is amazing.”
The atmosphere of Special Olympics and the impact Butler has made on Diane’s life and many other athletes has pushed him to find his calling in life.
The games not only put Butler’s future at CMU in perspective, but it helped direct him to majoring in Child Development.
“It made me thankful for having this scholarship to play at Central and get an education,” Butler said. “It really directed me down the (academic) area of child development. It showed me God gave me a gift to put a smile on kid’s faces and change lives. I never had a father figure, but I can be that role model in kids lives.”