Dougie’s Team Miles of Diversity

The Boston Marathon is just about two months away but runners have been training all through the late spring and summer months. On Saturday mornings, runners from a number of different charity teams come together for training runs. This includes Dougie’s Team, the team for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.

Runners alternate each week between longer training sessions to work up to 26.2 miles and shorter sprints to save energy and improve speed. The entire training program takes up 22 weeks. Saturday, August 7, the 13th Saturday of the program, was a longer run in which runners traveled anywhere between 10 and 16 miles. This particular Saturday was my first chance to cover marathon training behind the scenes.

Beating the Heat

Dougie’s Team captain Mike Palmer as well as Dougie’s Team runners Ann Corbett, Ashleigh Holmes, and Hanna Adams all ran 16 miles. Even for experienced runners, running this far was not an easy feat in the hot weather. The runners tried to beat the heat by waking up as early as 5 a.m., but today was an especially warm day even in the early morning hours.

Normally, runners would be training in the winter with the marathon taking place on Patriots Day. This year, with the marathon taking place in October, the training has been a little different. I met with several Dougie’s Team runners at the Boston Common, the endpoint of their run. Lauren Machado, who ran the marathon virtually for retired Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi’s charity team in 2020, was waiting at the Common as well with snacks and water for the runners.

Coach Furey leads runners through all aspects of training

Coach John Furey, who coaches Dougie’s Team, mentioned how this part of the training was a mental challenge and gave some insight into what the runners are currently dealing with.

“What you really have the runners going through is building physical and mental toughness.”

— Coach John Furey

Words of advice amongst runners

Runners also had numerous tips for one another. Lauren explained how the snacks she was giving out benefitted runners, while Mike and Hanna had words of encouragement for their teammates.

“If you want to run a marathon, don’t let anyone say you can’t, because you can fulfill any dreams that you want if you put your mind to it.”

— Dougie’s Team captain Mike Palmer

Dougie’s Team sticks together

While today was a tough run, Dougie’s Team remained motivated with the Flutie Foundation and Marathon Monday in mind. Members of Dougie’s Team have also kept each other motivated, leaving no one behind. Running is an individual sport but during the 22 weeks of training, having teammates to train with can really make a difference. This team is united in running for the Flutie Foundation and helping each other succeed.

Support Dougie’s Team to raise money for autism

Each Dougie’s Team runner is holding a fundraiser for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism leading up to the marathon. Click here for more information on how to support these runners and the Flutie Foundation in their mission to help people and families affected by autism live life to the fullest.

Sale leads to first Polar Park sellout, WooSox win on Autism Acceptance Day

It was Autism Acceptance Day at Polar Park and it was a beautiful day for some baseball. The WooSox faced the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliates, the Buffalo Bisons. Before the game, the WooSox honored many organizations that support people affected by autism. The New England Center for Children (NECC), a leader in autism education and training (and the school that taught me to talk) was honored during the pregame ceremony. Many NECC students, teachers, and family members also received tickets to the game.

Autism Acceptance Day was also the first 100% capacity sellout at Polar Park (9,508 fans) as Chris Sale took the mound for a rehab start after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in March 2020.

While Sale’s rehab start made this game even more exciting, large crowds can be a challenge for individuals with autism. As a result, the WooSox added an additional sensory-friendly space in the DCU Club. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was also open, as it is for every game, along the first base line adjacent to fan services.

I covered the game and events of the day on behalf of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. I was focusing not only on the game but also on the inclusive environment Polar Park had created.

I caught up with Jared Bouzan, NECC’s Chief Development Officer, before he was honored on the field. I also spoke with Jeff Arnold, a member of the NECC marketing team. Both Jared and Jeff were excited for the events of the day and very appreciative of the WooSox.

Marie Roy, an autistic WooSox employee, was working at the nacho stand. I met Marie last month during the Polar Park open house and caught up with her again at this game at the nacho stand where she works:

Joe Bradlee, WooSox VP of Baseball Operations & Community Relations invited me to come to the park at 1 p.m., three hours before the game, to catch batting practice (BP). It was a pretty incredible experience to be welcomed on the field to cover BP along with several other press members. Many extra media members came to Polar Park for Chris Sale. Red Sox utility player Marwin Gonzalez, like Sale, was also on a rehab assignment and took BP with the team. After BP, I had the chance to interview WooSox first baseman and designated hitter Josh Ockimey as well as WooSox coach Bruce Crabbe.

I also had the chance to speak with reporters like Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram (who I had originally met in 2015 during my first press box experience with the Bruins), and Alex Speier, a Boston Globe baseball writer and researcher who is frequently on NESN during Red Sox games to provide unique insight on the players. I was surprised to learn that despite the wealth of information that Alex shares during a game, like the percentage of change-ups a pitcher has thrown all season, that he is a one-man research team. He noted that he comes up with the good questions and then finds the data on the internet.

After covering BP and the pregame ceremony, I found a spot behind home plate next to the press box to watch the game. I was able to see Sale’s warm-up in right field in front of the Worcester Wall, and the game began shortly afterwards.

In the top of the first, the crowd roared as Sale took the mound. Even though he let a couple of baserunners on in the first, he kept the Bisons scoreless. Marwin Gonzalez, who I saw smash a few balls to right field during BP, gave the WooSox an early lead by crushing a solo homer over the Worcester Wall in the bottom of the first.

Over the first three innings, Chris Sale struck out six batters and he looked very sharp in the third inning when hitters Christian Colon, Corey Dickerson, and Tyler White all went down swinging for strike three. I performed some play-by-play from the stands during the top half of the second inning.

The fourth inning wasn’t as easy for Sale as he struggled with his fastball command. Sale gave up his first run in this inning on a pair of doubles. However, if it weren’t for center fielder Tate Matheny leaping up against the wall to rob Kevin Smith of a home run, the Bisons would have taken the lead. Matheny also had a running catch for out #2, with the third out coming on Sale’s seventh strikeout.

In the bottom of the inning, Matheny showed how great defense can lead to offense by hitting a two-run shot over the wall and onto the left field berm. Michael Gettys, who had reached base in all four of his at bats, scored on the HR blast.

Sale left the game with the score 3-1, after throwing 81 pitches, striking out seven, and giving up one run in five innings. Shortly after Sale was done, several media members exited the press box and a few of them asked me if I wanted to go see Chris Sale, so I followed them out of the ballpark.

The WooSox set up a temporary press tent just outside the ballpark specifically for the Chris Sale post game interview. He spoke to the media during the bottom of the 6th inning. I was told that I could observe, as Joe McDonald and Alex Speier asked the bulk of the questions, but I was encouraged to take a spot up close on the side of the tent just before Sale came out to speak.

Sale said he was very encouraged by the results and that this was different than the previous rehab outings. He said he “felt normal” for the first time in a long while during this game. He knows what the Red Sox are doing is special and that he needs to be ready to help them when he rejoins the club.

While Sale was speaking, the WooSox continued to build on their lead as #2 Red Sox prospect (according to MLB.com) Jeter Downs, hit a huge solo shot into deep left field and well past the berm seats.

Buffalo made the game closer in the seventh inning. Nash Knight who had already knocked in the first Bisons run, tripled for his third hit before scoring on a Rodrigo Vigil groundout.

However, Durbin Feltman came in to pitch the last two innings, and prevented the Bisons from scoring any more as the WooSox secured a 4-2 victory. Sale was the winning pitcher with his first official win since August 2019.

After the win, fans headed onto the field for the Sunset Catch. Fans are invited to play catch after every Saturday WooSox game at Polar Park.

I had a thrilling day at Polar Park as I had the opportunity to enjoy all the events of the day as a press member, a fan, and a member of the autism community. I’ll be back at Polar Park again on Friday August 13 to see the game and watch fireworks afterwards, something Polar Park does for every Friday night game. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a game yet, I highly recommend it.

Celebrating 7 Years of Boston Sports Mania

Today marks 7 years since I took a book out of the library and decided to start this blog, posting an MLB 2014 Preview. That’s pretty fitting considering my sports fandom began with baseball.

Just like I did in 2014 and have done in every year since, I’ll be posting my MLB season predictions before the season begins. For the second year in a row, I collaborated on these predictions with my cousin Michael. I made an appearance on his podcast, The Master Plan. I’ll have a post up about those this weekend. In the meantime, I have some special announcements to make.

I designed this new logo in commemoration of this 7 year blog anniversary as well as the upcoming Autism Acceptance Month this April:

When I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, my parents were told I may never speak. I have made lots of progress since then, from learning to talk, read, and write, to discovering my passion for sports, to starting this blog. After starting this blog, I realized I wanted to become a professional sports journalist, and I have been lucky enough to have some experiences in the industry thanks to connections I’ve made through this blog.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the supportive communities that helped me along the way. That’s why I’ve launched a apparel fundraising campaign featuring this new logo to help give back to the autism community this April.

Click here or watch the video below for more information on this campaign:

I’m excited to be celebrating 7 years of Boston Sports Mania and Autism Acceptance Month with this campaign, and I look forward to keeping this website active for many years to come.

Special Olympics 2018 USA Games Golf Preview: Lagasse, Rohrer Battle For Gold Once Again

Special Olympics USA Games

Starting with the Opening Ceremony this Sunday, July 1st, I will be in Seattle to cover the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games on behalf of the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.  As a member of the press, I will follow golfers Tyler Lagasse of Massachusetts and Scott Rohrer of South Carolina.  Both golfers are sponsored by the Flutie Foundation this year and as a member of the autism community, I am honored to report on these two amazing golfers and inspiring individuals.

Tyler and Scott have finished 1st and 2nd in each of the last two Special Olympics USA Summer Games (New Jersey 2014 and Nebraska 2010).  Look for daily updates on Boston Sports Mania and on Flutie Foundation social media including their blog.

Read below to learn more about Special Olympians Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer.

A Brief Golf History: Tyler Lagasse

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Tyler is a 31-year old autistic adult from Tyngsborough, Massachusetts.  He began golfing in 2003 and has traveled to Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Nebraska, and several other places for Special Olympics tournaments.  He is a member of the Special Olympics hall of fame, won an honorary ESPY in 2017, and was even featured on a Golf Channel program in 2010.  He co-authored a book about autism with his mom, published in 2015 called What Do You Say?: Autism with Character.  Several times including 2014, along with a few other Special Olympics golfers, Tyler has been invited to the Pro-Am, a PGA event.

Tyler has never competed before on the 2018 Special Olympics course, Willows Run, but he has plenty of experience on 18-hole courses.  At the 2017 Pro-Am tournament, he played a round with a personal best score of 70, par for the 18 hole course.  He won silver at the 2008 Special Olympics National Golf Invitational in Florida as well as each of the last two USA Summer Games.  While Tyler has never won gold on the national stage, he is hungry for his first gold medal.  This past week, Tyler noted, “I want that gold medal so badly, I want to do whatever it takes to get it, because I may never have this opportunity again. To me as well as many others coming to Seattle, this is MY Olympics”.  Tyler is clear very competitive but in the book he co-authored with his mother Deborah Lagasse, golf is also therapeutic for Tyler.

“Golf sometimes makes me come face to face with my demons inside. I consider golf a tool for dealing with adversity because I have faced endless adversity all my life; most of us do sometimes. Golf also helps me feel good about myself, tests my resilience and mental toughness. I learned so much about myself through golf and it’s given me an identity, something that fits my personality and golf has allowed me to put my personality on display” (Tyler Lagasse).  Tyler also writes about every golf tournament in great detail so he was even able to provide me with some of his previous USA Games and Pro-Am stats.  He is proud to be sponsored by the Flutie Foundation.  “They’ve come out of their way in helping me surpass my fundraising goal for this year’s USA Games. I thank them for their support because they see me as a talented individual rather than one living with autism. And they see the gift that autism has, and that gift is hope” (Tyler Lagasse).

Tyler will be competing starting Monday July 2nd in the Level V Golf Tournament and his biggest competitor in this tournament will likely be Scott Rohrer, who is also being sponsored by the Flutie Foundation.

A Brief Golf History: Scott Rohrer

Image result for scott rohrer golf

Scott Rohrer is an autistic adult from York, South Carolina.  He has golfed for 20 years and he was 7 when he started.  Scott had a personal and Special Olympics best of 71 (-1) in the opening round of the 2010 USA Games.  He topped that score at the 2015 Los Angeles World Games.  When another golfer beat that record, he only did better the next day.  He scored a 60 on a par-66 course to break the Special Olympics World Record.  He finished the tournament at a Special Olympics best -12.  He has won 7 gold medals on the national stage, including a gold medal in each of the last two USA Games tournaments.  Tyler Lagasse earned the silver medal in both of those tournaments.  Scott has won medals at other tournaments as well including a bronze medal at the 2014 World Golf Cup.

Scott works on a tree farm with his dad, Jeff in York from Monday to Thursday each week but spends the weekend on the golf course.  His golf games against his dad are pretty close but he usually out-drives his dad.  His mom Elizabeth is his caddy.  Scott can be very streaky.  He came back from a triple bogey and bogey to start the day to score a second straight 75 on Day 3 of the 2010 USA Games.  Golf brings Scott out of his shell, and people who play with him see him as a competitive golfer not as someone with autism who plays golf.

The big stage as Willows Run is set and now the question is will Scott Rohrer win another gold medal or will Tyler’s hunger and competitive spirit help lead him to victory and his first gold?

Previous Competitions Between Tyler and Scott

2010 USA Games

Scott won gold in this tournament, shooting 71-75-75, while Tyler won silver, shooting 79-78-75.

2012 Pro-Am (Stats courtesy of Tyler Lagasse)

Tyler came in 3rd overall playing with Gary Woodland, shooting a 58 (-13).  Scott shot a 64 (-7) playing with Brendan Steele.

2014 USA Games

Scott won gold for the 2nd consecutive USA Games tournament, shooting 76-78-78.  Tyler won silver again, shooting 84-81-88.

2014 Pro-Am (Stats courtesy of Tyler Lagasse)

Tyler came in 4th overall playing with Tommy Gainey, shooting a 55 (-16).  Scott was not far behind, shooting a 59 (-12) with I.K. Kim.

2016 Pro-Am (Stats courtesy of Tyler Lagasse)

Tyler (with Rod Pampling) and Scott (with Scott Langley) tied for 4th with a 52 (-19).

The Tournament Venue: Willows Run Golf Complex

Image result for willows run golf club eagle talon course

Willows Run is located in Redmond, Washington, about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle.  It includes two 18-hole courses, Eagles Talon and Coyote Creek, both of which are par-72 courses, just like the course that the 2010 USA Games golf tournament was held on.  Special Olympics Level V golfers will be competing on Eagles Talon from 8:30 AM-3:30 PM every day from July 2-July 4.  The course is over 6,800 yards in total and has a lot of long and narrow tree lined holes so hooking or slicing off the tee could definitely be dangerous.  The greens are playing fast, even though it’s been wet the last few days.

For more information on Willows Run, see my article from the day I arrived when I toured the course. (video below)

Other Level V Golfers To Watch For

There are 12 golfers participating in the high performance stroke play Level V competition, including Tyler and Scott.  I have provided a little information on the other golfers in their competition below.

There are two divisions within the Level V high performance competition.  Both divisions compete in the same pool, but Division 2 golfers are ranked separately for medals.  Tyler and Scott are Division 1, while some of these other golfers are Division 2.  Also, the expectation is the each day will  begin with a shotgun start so that more golf is ongoing at once, starting at 8:30 AM.

Garrett Stortz, Alaska

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Stortz joined Special Olympics in 2007, participating in field hockey.  He eventually switched to his favorite sport, golf.  He is a member of Division 2 in the high performance stroke play competition.  He is eager to represent Alaska in the USA Games.  Special Olympics has changed his life as he has met many new people who share his passion for golf.  Stortz also participated in Level V Golf at the 2015 World Games in LA and the 2014 USA Games.  He won the Division 2 gold in 2014 and Division 2 bronze in 2015.

Joel Murray, Louisiana

Murray is a longtime Special Olympics golfer who will be part of Division 2 in the Level V high performance competition.  He has been invited to the Pro-Am before and was not far behind Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer the last time he competed in a Special Olympics national tournament (Nebraska 2010). He had a personal best 18-hole score of 73 in Nebraska and won gold in a lower division. He will also be competing in the Level V tourney in Seattle.  Murray is a longtime Special Olympics golfer.  Murray won the 2009 National Golf Invitational Level V Play and had the lowest score in Pro-Am history in 2013.

Travis Curtis, Maine

Curtis joined Special Olympics Maine in 2007.  He will be participating in Division 1 of the Level V High Performance competition, but he has also played Unified golf in the past.  He came close to a medal at each of the last two USA Games and is hopeful that he can bring a medal home from Seattle.  He has won gold in the state competition each year since he started in 2007.

Thomas Cleek, Missouri

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Cleek has been a multi-sport Special Olympian for over 10 years.  He won gold in a lower division in the 2014 USA Games, where he last played on the national stage, but this year Cleek will be part of Division 1, where he will have tougher medal competition like golfers Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer.  Can he take home a medal as he moves up into the highest division?

Chris Lussier, Rhode Island

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Nicknamed the Mayor, Lussier has been competing in many sports for team Rhode Island over the last 10 years.  He has also competed in unified competitions with his dad as his partner.  They have developed a closer bond by competing together.  Chris also met his girlfriend, Amy, and many other friends from Special Olympics.  He won gold in the Level III Unified golf competition back in 2014.  He also won a medal in golf at the 2010 USA Games, and he even won gold in the unified golf competition at the 2011 World Summer Games.  This year, he will compete in the 2nd division of the Level V high performance individual stroke play competition.

Miles Stroud, Texas

Stroud has participated in multiple sports at Special Olympics for ten years.  He says his favorite sport is definitely golf though.  Miles has a handicap of 9.2 as he enters the 2nd division of the Level V high performance individual stroke play competition.  He is a huge fan of all Texas A&M sports, and he cheers for the Aggies in his down time.  He won gold as a part of Division 4 of the Level V competition at the 2012 Special Olympics National Golf Invitational with a 72-hole score of 301.  Will Stroud take home a medal in Seattle as part of Division 2?

Brock Aoki, Utah

Aoki has been golfing since age 6 or 7, and will compete in Division 1 of the Level V High Performance competition.  He plays golf in nearly all his free time, though he has just started a full time job as a chef.  He may be dedicated to golf, but can he keep up with the scratch golfers in his division such as Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer?

Tony Marino, Utah

Marino started competing in Special Olympics at age 13.  He will compete in Division 2 of the Level V High Performance competition.  Marino has played as far away as China in Special Olympics golf.  Marino was paired up with Tyler Lagasse in the Opening Round of the 2008 National Golf Invitational, and they got along well.  Tony has also been a coach for Special Olympics.  Marino is happy to travel around the world and participate in multiple sports thanks to Special Olympics.

Grace Anne Braxton, Virginia

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Braxton is a long time Special Olympics golfer and swimmer.  She has participated since 1981, and that was before Tyler Lagasse or Scott Rohrer was born.  She was ranked #1 among female Special Olympic golfers in the world in both 2007 and 2011.  She won the Division 2 gold at the 2010 USA Games and has participated in the World Games in 1991, 2007, and 2011, and won gold in both 2007 and 2011 when she was ranked #1 among females.  She also participated in golf at the 2014 USA Games.  Braxton will participate in the Division 2 High Performance Individual Stroke Tournament again this year in Seattle.  Will she take home another medal?

Peter Condon, Washington

Image result for peter condon special olympics

Condon has been playing golf since 2006.  He will be part of Division 1, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer’s division, in the Level V High Performance Individual Stroke Tournament.  Condon has loved golf ever since he started and is eager to participate in his home state in this year’s USA Games.  The question is, has he played on Willows Run before, and will home state advantage help him win a medal in a division that includes some of the country’s best?

Stay tuned for updates live from Seattle as the story unfolds.