Wolfson High School student, Michael Weidle emerged from his football season with some statewide victories, countywide recognition, and a team of new friends who weathered the ups and downs in a hard-fought football season. Only it wasn’t a typical football team or an everyday honor, and Michael Weidle isn’t your everyday player.
Michael Weidle bypassed the Wolfpack locker room and instead traveled five miles down the road to North Florida School of Special Education (NFSSE) where he practiced and played as a unified partner on the NFSSE Eagles Special Olympics flag football team. “I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up,” said Michael. “I didn’t expect to enjoy the experience as much as I did,” but he did enjoy it. All of it.
Michael began partnering with NFSSE Eagles flag football teams in 2018. Special Olympics area organizer, Sue Scovill believes that Michael embodies everything good about being a unified partner. “His interaction is fabulous. He makes sure everyone on the team is involved on the field and he socializes with them off the field.” Michael’s leadership caught the attention of others as well, and he was recognized at the Special Olympics Statewide Games as the Duval County Inspirational Partner in November 2019.
NFSSE players agree that Michael deserved the honor. “Michael is an awesome leader. He makes me feel good about myself,” said Jake. George agreed, “Michael is kind, thoughtful, and cares.” AJ summed it up, “He is my friend.”
Michael shrugs off the accolades and instead shares about the friendships he developed with his teammates. He was especially inspired by the players’ extraordinary sportsmanship. “Even if the team was losing they would all high-five each other and lift each other up. It was really cool.”
As Michael closes the chapter on the 2019 flag football season, he reflects on the lasting impact that his teammates made in his life. Michael will continue his studies at Wolfson High School in the IB program and plans to play on the NFSSE Eagles team until he leaves for college. In the distant future, Michael may be in the position to employ Jake, George, AJ, or another person with intellectual differences. Through this experience, he will know the many strengths and contributions they bring to a team, especially the ability to lift up others, even in the face of adversity.
“Michael Weidle’s story is a shining example of the life-changing impact that followed taking a brave step out of one’s comfort zone. The result was a win-win,” said Connectable manager, Sarah Troup. “Jacksonville is a strong community of people and organizations that come together to make connections like this one happen.” Today we celebrate Connectable partners, North Florida School of Special Education, Special Olympics-Duval County, and of course, Michael Weidle!
Connectable is an initiative to foster meaningful connections with people with intellectual and developmental differences in the Northeast Florida community, businesses, schools, and congregations.
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