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For the Love of the Game

Jamaal Goodlow and the power of saying “heck ya!” when opportunity knocks

Everyone has their “why”, and for Jamaal Goodlow, it’s the joy he feels witnessing the arc of a Special Olympics Oregon athlete, unfamiliar with a sport at the beginning of a season, compete with a giant smile on their face at season’s end.

Goodlow is a Unified Champion Schools coach at Parkrose High School, where his brother is principal. He started as a special needs teaching assistant, and when his brother approached him about running the Unified program, Goodlow’s response was simple, “I said heck ya, let’s do it!”

Jamaal “fell in love with Special Olympics” as a sixth grader after reading the book ‘The Acorn People’ and grew up watching his father coach sports; he now carries on the family legacy. Working with children with intellectual disabilities has always been a big part of his identity, and coaching is in his blood.

Coaching has since inspired Jamaal to become a credentialed special education teacher and advocate for inclusion in public schools. Last year, he completed his first full year as a credentialed special education teacher at Prescott Elementary. Seeing the comradery and cooperation of students’ diverse skill levels makes him proud to be a part of the program. He believes all students should have the same opportunities to play the sports they love.

Unified Champion Schools (UCS) aims to alter school communities through the power of inclusion, acceptance, and determination. UCS brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities to be change agents, so that everyone can have authentic participatory and competitive experiences in school-based activities. There are three pillars: Unified Sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement.

Goodlow feels the Unified program gives Special Olympics athletes a chance to play varsity-like sports alongside their peers in tournaments, with crowds cheering them on. Goodlow said “they are playing a real game, with cheerleaders, all of it.”

He’s “super excited” about basketball this year, a program that was struggling when he took it over and has since burgeoned, through his passion and dedication, to not one but two teams. “Parents like the way I run my program,” he said, “I don’t baby the kids. I treat them like the athletes they are. It is some of the best basketball you’re going to see in Oregon, the entertainment value is so worth coming and checking out! Seeing people play the game for the love and the passion of it, you can’t get any better than that!”

His new mission is to start Unified soccer at Parkrose High School next year, with plans to do a summer camp to recruit players.

What drives his passion?

“Coaching and supporting players in the (UCS) championship games; seeing proud parents moved to tears watching their child accomplish so much; watching Unified partners build relationships with Special Olympics athletes; and seeing the other teams play cooperatively without dominating or bullying. It all makes me very proud.”