Streamwood teen to compete in Special Olympics gaming event
Sheila Davis said it has been awhile since she's seen her 14-year-old son, EJ, this excited.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for EJ, a Streamwood resident who has autism.
"He's OK being at home," Davis said. "He doesn't want to go outside during the pandemic, so that's where the anxiety comes in leaving the house."
Special Olympics is teaming with Microsoft to help. EJ, who graduated from Margaret Mead Junior High in Elk Grove Village on Wednesday and will attend Hoffman Estates High School, is one of four athletes who will represent Special Olympics Illinois on Saturday in the 2020 Special Olympics Xbox Virtual Gaming Event.
It's the first time Illinois has fielded a team.
EJ, along with Jack Klawitter, 14, of Frankfort, Leukiy Fawbush, 16, of Homewood and Stephanie Lopez, 15, of Oak Lawn, will compete against athletes from 11 other states.
The event, featuring Forza Motorsport 7, will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday. The livestreamed competition, which is intended to celebrate Special Olympics athletes and help combat isolation, can be viewed on Mixer, Xbox YouTube or Twitch.
EJ said he's never played a racing game, but he's interested to see how the competition goes.
"I'm not much of a social person, but it is kind of nice to just chat with some other people digitally while trying to go fast in a tiny little car around a giant racetrack that you can barely control," EJ said.
Kelly O'Reilly is EJ's Special Olympics coach. She said that before the pandemic, EJ was part of the unified champion schools activities programs at Margaret Mead that brings together kids with and without disabilities in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54.
They practiced sports, worked on community projects, served in a food pantry, created holiday-themed crafts and held fundraisers for the school.
O'Reilly said the e-gaming event is an excellent opportunity for EJ and his teammates.
"It's a very exciting opportunity for him to be part of that first team," O'Reilly said. "A lot of kids are playing video games anyway. For some of our kids who struggle with social skills, they can use video games as a way to be appropriately social with their peers that otherwise may not come natural for them. Esports is a way to get our athletes involved in a way that comes naturally to all kids. It's kind of channeling that into a competition, (which) I think is a really cool opportunity."