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Can’t wait for Nebraska

June 30, 2010

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To many, Michael Jackson is still the King. And, after several years of thrilling crowds with his quick moves and winsome ways, he is ready to enter the spotlight once again.

No, not THAT Michael Jackson.

This other Michael Jackson is 31 and works in the mailroom of a large company near Dallas. And his stage will be at the 2010 Special Olympics Games in Lincoln, Neb., where he will compete as a volleyball player.

Like his namesake, though, he is a thriller. Jackson’s competitors know it, and he’s got the awards to prove it.

For the native Texan, however, the games are about more than bragging rights. They’re also about having fun, making friends and helping others.

Jackson is a leader on the volleyball court and helps to set an example for younger players. “He never loses his temper even when referees make a bad call,” said his coach, Sandra Boggs. “He’s just a really good person.

“All of the young boys say, ‘I want to be like Michael when I grow up,’” she added. “He has a truck, he has a job and he’s just so responsible.”

Jackson demonstrates that responsibility by delivering the volleyballs and nets to all of the games and practices at which he plays. That’s two games and at least one practice every week on his unified team.  Special Olympics unified sports teams mix players with and without challenges.

Fellow player Lisa Grantham, who is also the delegation head, remembers when she first started playing with Michael.

“We would call out verbal cues like ‘Michael be ready’ or ‘Here it comes.’ Now we don’t have to do that anymore.”

After honing his skills for the past 17 years, Jackson plays just as well as anyone else.

“It is very satisfying for us to win one game of three against the general population,” Grantham said. “And Michael is one of our best servers.”

Jackson currently lives at home with his parents, but Grantham said, “Our ultimate hope is that when people with disabilities move into group homes or on their own, they can play [sports] with others.”

That’s something Jackson can already do.

At the 2002 USA National Volleyball Tournament, Grantham said, Jackson did well serving and spiking. “He also won Most Valuable Player and Male Athlete of the Year.”

Jackson is reluctant to toot his own horn, but he has won awards during each year he has competed.

“Coaches from opposing teams have voted for Michael,” Grantham said. “He’s received such awards as Best Sportsmanship, Best Play on the Court and Overall Attitude.

“When Michael moves on the court, he can play well with others in several sports including pick-up basketball, bowling and volleyball.”

Jackson speaks positively about his athleticism, but don’t ask him what makes him different. “I don’t look at things as if I have a disability,” he said.

For decades, the term “mental retardation” negatively branded people with cognitive delay, mental and physical disabilities.  In 2004, Special Olympics updated its official terminology from mental retardation to “intellectual disabilities.”

Jackson is committed to excelling. “I don’t think I’ll stop competing until I’m 99 years old,” he said, laughing. “I love this too much to ever consider giving it up. They’re going to have to push me away!”

Jackson is delighted that competing in the Special Olympics has made it possible for him to travel.

“So far, my favorite place is Minnesota. The Mall of America was cool,” Jackson said.

“But I’m looking forward to Nebraska. I’ve never been there.”

Jackson is ready to play before the crowds in Big Red country. His co-workers, family and coaches support him, he said, and he’s excited about all that the 2010 Special Olympics will offer.

Jackson knows there will be great athletes on hand, but he is not intimidated as he prepares for the gold.

“Michael is just really special,” Grantham said. “He was born special.”



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