Sac-Joaquin Section athletes take a break from their dreams to make those of others’ come true
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
The pages of SportStars Magazine have been filled with stories and pictures of outstanding athletes, teams and coaches achieving greatness and making history in the form of individual and collective section titles, state championships and record-breaking performances. But the words, statistics and images do not tell the entire story of teamwork, sacrifice and dreams realized.
On Saturday, May 16 — after most of the year’s athletic events were memories — more than 450 volunteers, including athletes, cheerleaders and coaches, helped make dreams come true on a scale far more impactful than any game-winning touchdown pass. The Capital Christian Center saw scores of local athletes escorting 258 special needs guests to an extraordinary experience at the 6th Annual Evening of Dreams.
The prom was founded and is still directed by Michelle Raby to reach out to the special needs community with a red carpet event for teens and young adults with disabilities. The goal was to create a prom experience complete with limousines, formal pictures, music and refreshments with the ability to provide for a variety of special needs.
The event, which started in 2010 with 64 special needs guests and 178 volunteers, has seen its profile rise. The Evening of Dreams attracted stars like Folsom’s Jake Browning, Capital Christian’s Justice Shelton-Mosley and Paige Florio, and Oak Ridge’s Laurel Maunder and Ryan Sullivan as 42 local high schools and 22 colleges (including athletes returning from as far away as Ole Miss) were represented.
“The atmosphere that is created is amazing and it allows you to step into a comfort zone where you can be yourself and just laugh and dance around,” said Mosley, who attended for the first time in 2015. “My goal in life is to serve and give back, and it was a very humbling experience.”
Athletic directors, principals and coaches are happy to lend their time, services and athletes for such a great cause. Del Oro football coach Casey Taylor was one of the first to encourage his team to participate in the Evening of Dreams as part of the Golden Eagles’ character-building program. Despite less-than-overwhelming media coverage of the event, one of the area’s best-kept secrets has schools and athletic programs seeking to volunteer, where in years past Raby and her crew hunted for help.
“(Evening of Dreams) has always been a big part of the football program,” said Sullivan, a 2015 graduate from Oak Ridge, which had the largest contingent of student volunteers. “Our Leadership Program on campus and the football players have sparked a movement of all students signing up to be a part of it. I had people contacting me and asking about it, and I told them to do it, and to sign up early because the slots fill up so fast now.”
In the end, the goal of reaching out to the special needs community was fulfilled, and the schools and community at large were reached and positively affected even more.
“We live in a society today where everything is about self, but when you are at the event, you can see and feel the empathy and compassion,” Raby said. “Athletes have a big voice in school, and we hope that they can take the awareness of the special needs community back to their schools.”
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