BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, TYNAN GABLE
The little act of giving everyone a chance can go a long way and leave a lasting impact. This is the lesson everyone can learn from this week’s Game Changer, Steve Valach. Steve is the head football coach at Liberty High School in Renton, WA and a set of thankful parents believe he is well deserving of the recognition and praise of the #ImAGameChanger campaign.
Several years ago, Steve and Peggy McCarthy took the initiative to get their son, Kevin, involved on the Liberty High School football team. Kevin loves football and they wanted to see if there was some way he could help the team. Kevin has Down syndrome, and because of this has faced the ongoing challenge of being given very limited opportunities for growth in the realm of athletics.
With Coach Valach, things were different, and an entirely new world opened for Kevin. From the day he attended his first football practice, he was treated with respect and dignity by the coach and players. To many people (including Peggy and Kevin), Coach Valach is much more than just a coach – he is a mentor, teacher, and a friend.
The idea was to have Kevin play a variation of a team manager role. His role grew each year as he moved with his graduating class from the freshman team to JV, and then from JV to Varsity. One of the main ways Kevin was able to get involved was during the open team discussions that occurred Thursdays after practice and weekends after games.
At these sessions the coach would call for volunteers to speak about team members who had been performing well or for general motivational comments. Kevin always had something he wanted to say to the team.
“This was really good for helping him to articulate his ideas in a way people could understand, and slow down and talk so people could hear,” Peggy said.
But Kevin gained a lot more than just public speaking skills during his time on the team. According to Peggy, Valach also encouraged his team to “interact with him. It was a pretty amazing thing because they embraced Kevin and treated him like a regular guy.”