Summer football camps are a routine occurrence in the Cayman Islands.
The sights and sounds of young children toiling under the hot sun to improve their skills and just plain have fun are nothing new.
There is something fresh about one camp this year, however.
FC International, one of Cayman’s top clubs, has a proud history of offering free youth camps every year to children in each district.
What’s more, however, is that the club is making a point this year of encouraging special needs or mentally challenged children to attend their camps.
Of course this is commendable and thoughtful, but more importantly it is another reminder for the entire Cayman Islands to do better at making opportunities available for those among us who were born with unusual burdens.
One does not have to look far for an example of just how well inclusion can work.
Grand Cayman teenager Andrew Smiley was once just another student at the Lighthouse School.
Today, however, Andrew is a star swimmer.
He has shown just how much the mentally challenged can achieve if given a chance.
Andrew earned his way onto the Cayman Islands junior national swim team and represented his country well in international competitions.
He is also a consistent top finisher in local sea swims.
But such success just didn’t happen all by itself.
Andrew was encouraged to try and he was allowed to try. Good people such as Coach Penny McDowall not only taught him how to tread water and perform the backstroke, but they also knocked on doors and promoted a general belief that no rigid limits should be placed on young people, regardless of how they may score on an IQ or dexterity test.
Cayman has done well over the last several years at working to include mentally challenged citizens into the mainstream as much as possible.
However, we still have far to go.
No one should ever doubt the potential of a human mind, even those minds that may not be text-book perfect.
The mentally challenged not only have an obvious right to be included, but they also offer much to the rest of us. Anyone who spends an hour or so at the Lighthouse School and observes the interaction between dedicated teachers and ambitious mentally challenged students is sure to come away believing that these kids must be encouraged to pursue their dreams.
They also must be free of irrational limits upon those dreams.
The Caymanian Compass applauds FC International for its gracious inclusion of all children in its summer camps. We hope their example is noted and followed by many other organisations, both within the sports community and beyond.