HOPE Week: Rockaway Special Athletes

The Yankees kicked off HOPE Week 2013 (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) by celebrating Rockaway Special Athletes), the group’s founder, Joe Featherston, along with St. Camillus/St. Virgilius Parish (the group’s original home) and St. Rose of Lima School (which took the group in after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the St. Camillus gymnasium).

Yankees players Ivan Nova, Zoilo Almonte, Adam Warren, David Adams, Preston Claiborne and Alberto Gonzalez joined in one of their get-togethers at St. Rose of Lima School in Rockaway Beach, Queens. The Yankees and RSA participants played games such as kickball, Wiffle ball and basketball in the school gym. The participants and families visited Yankee Stadium for the 7:05 p.m. game against the Royals to watch batting practice from the field and take part in pre-game, on-field ceremonies.

In 1996, Featherston, then a physical education teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, was asked to prepare a group of Special Olympians for a track meet at St. John’s University. He accepted and used the opportunity to involve students from his high school in assisting with the once-a-week coaching sessions.

Featherston’s work with the Olympians made him realize that children with disabilities, along with their families, could derive great benefits from having a regular physical and social outlet. He contacted now-retired Father James Dunne of St. Camillus-St. Virgilius Parish (SCSVP) in Rockaway Park for parishioners who wanted to become involved in a weekly gathering for children with disabilities. That fall, the group held its first meeting with eight athletes and six volunteers, and Rockaway Special Athletes was born.

The group gets together weekly to provide recreational activities for children and adults with disabilities. Gatherings include family members of the participants, their friends and student volunteers, many from local high schools.

Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy last October, which left the church’s gymnasium inundated with water and in need of significant repair work, Featherston reached out to nearby St. Rose of Lima School, which had been mostly spared by the storm. The Rockaway Special Athletes and their families were thankful for the generosity of St. Rose of Lima and look forward to returning home in September, when reconstruction is completed at SCSVP.

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