News & Stories

Happy Father's Day, Joe

Joe Stewart.JPG

The fabric of Special Olympics USA is woven with friends, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. Becoming a united family in the spirit of sport, members of the delegations come from their own towns, their own homes, their own families, to be here. Today, we recognize an important thread in our woven collection. Today, we recognize the individuals who are called teammate, who are called coach, who are called staff, who are also called dad.

Today, Special Olympics USA assistant soccer coach Joe Stewart will be wished a happy Father’s Day, for the very first time. Seven months ago, he and his wife welcomed their son, Matthew, into the world. From Long Island, New York, they will be sending their love and appreciation for him to Berlin.

Matthew Stewart.jpg

“I miss him very much, but I Facetime him every day,” said Joe. “I feel like he’s getting bigger every time I talk to him, even though it’s only been a week.”

Though he is miles from home, he is surrounded by many a proud moment as a role model and coach for the City Hawks Unified Training Club. Representing Special Olympics USA, the team competed in their first match of the Special Olympics World Games on Sunday, June 18, against Special Olympics Germany. Joe’s first Father’s Day was spent on the sidelines, helping to lead his team. June 18 also happens to be his birthday.
“I think it’s going to be a tough game,” he commented. “The team is feeling confident. We had the scrimmage in Bremen, but we need to play more. They seemed super motivated when we left.”

 As the founder of the City Hawks Unified Training Club, Joe has watched both athletes and Unified partners mature over the years, remembering how far they have come to reach where they are now.

For most of the team, this is their first time traveling outside of the United States. Special Olympics USA soccer athlete Alex Gonzalez Rosendo traveled by plane for the first time.

“Alex has been doing soccer with us since he was in middle school,” explained Joe. “Our school only has a couple of middle school classes, it’s a high school. We’re a school for individuals with intellectual disabilities. He came into our school in 2015 and that year, Robin Roberts and Tim Shriver did an interview across the street. They used our practice area and Alex was there. He got to take a picture with Robin Roberts and he got to take a picture with her yesterday.”

Standing in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Alex and his fellow Special Olympics USA delegates were featured on Good Morning America, hosted by Robin Roberts. Airing on Friday, June 16, from 7-10 a.m. (ET) on ABC, the segment featured members of the delegation and Special Olympics Chairman of the Board Timothy Shriver. Outfitted in red, white and blue, Alex stood in the front row, waving his American flag.

He may not be their parent, but Joe is just as proud of his team as one would be. In the first round of divisioning, Special Olympics USA lost their match against Special Olympics Germany, but their tenacity remains. The days ahead are a test of their trust in each other, as a team, as family, to work together. Regardless of the final score, Joe is proud.

This Father’s Day, this birthday, the gifts he received were priceless. The night before, his son and wife watched the Opening Ceremony broadcast from the comfort of their Long Island home. As the Special Olympics USA delegation marched into Olympiastadion Berlin, Matthew crawled for the first time. Call it coincidence, call it extraordinary, call it a happy Father’s Day for Joe.