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Service High’s Inclusion soccer match allows all to enjoy the world’s most popular sport

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 10:53 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Soccer is known as the world’s game, and to a pair of organizations in Alaska, that includes everyone.

Five years ago, Service High School counselor and boys soccer head coach Dan Rufner began an inclusion soccer match through their Partners Club and Special Olympics Alaska, which saw its annual game Tuesday between the Service and Dimond varsity games.

“We had over 55 alumni come today and be part of it and they were excited to reconnect and see the students that they had worked with in the past and participated with in unified sports,” Adam Ahonen, a special education teach at Service, said. “It was cool to see that collection of kids coming back and participating, it was fun.”

The combination of athletes took to the pitch with unbeatable smiles as advocates showed them how to love the game, like Service graduate and current Southern Oregon University soccer player Chase Hodges.

Hodges flew up to Anchorage for just a few days specifically for the inclusion soccer match.

“I was a part of the first one that they did here and it was just so much fun so I definitely had to come up,” Hodges said after assisting on a couple of goals during the match. “... Their happiness just glows no matter what they’re going through, or who they are, who they’re surrounded by and at certain times when I might be self reflective on my own stuff, and you spend time with these, all of that just goes away and that smile just comes up on your face and its just the best.”

2022 Winter Olympian and Service graduate Gus Schumacher, who has been a Special Olympics volunteer for several years, made an appearance at the annual game as a commentator, alongside Ahonen.

“I think this community of people, everyone here, is so good to be around and it’s cool to see people come from different schools even to be a part of this partner’s club because everyone is so welcoming and friendly,” Schumacher said.

Unified athletes walked away with medals and lasting memories, while the Partners Club also walked away with something less tangible.

“A lot of these partners that come in and volunteer their time are future leaders for our community and our state and leaving and coming back and doing stuff, and so it’s so neat to see that this is a super important thing to them and had a lasting impression on them,” Ahonen added. “... The influence that it has on them from high school helps them become a better community member.”

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