BRISTOL, Conn. (WTNH) — Disney and ESPN have announced a new partnership with the Special Olympics to promote unified teams that have members both with and without disabilities.
Special Olympian Sean Bogart's competitive spirit shines on the field, playing alongside athletes without intellectual disabilities.
"It's fun, it's like a lot of games and making friends," Sean said.
Best friend Troy Sundwall first met Sean, playing on the same basketball team for Team North Haven.
"Sean has changed my life in so many ways," said Troy. "He's the most polite kid you'll ever meet. He has an unbelievable work ethic. He's a great friend. He's the most loyal friend you'll ever have."
It's a friendship that underscores the power of the Special Olympics Unified Sports program.
Now that impact will be felt globally with ESPN and Disney promoting this new era of Special Olympics worldwide.
"The new Special Olympics is not for people with intellectual differences," said Tim Shriver, Special Olympics CEO & Chairman. "It's for all of us, so we want our basketball teams to have people with intellectual differences and people who don't. We want our volleyball teams to be composed of equal numbers."
Star athletes like US women soccer player Kristine Lilly, Portland Blazer's Damian Lillard and X Games skateboarder Mitchie Brusco have signed on as ambassadors.
"As athletes, it's all about the chance to play," said Michelle Kwan.
Olympian figure skater Michelle Kwan is a longtime supporter.
"It really encourages more inclusion, the idea of inclusion and acceptance in society," Kwan said.
"We have many, millions of people in the country who are still feeling the sting and rejection and stigma," Shriver said. "Let's end it by playing our way into unified hearts and minds."
The effect on Sean is indeed lasting.
"If I hadn't done this, I would have been at home doing nothing, but I'm glad that I'm actually doing," Sean said, "that way I'm physically fit and give it all the power you get."
To start, they're increasing awareness of Special Olympics Unified Sports in a number of countries and targeted areas in the United States, including right here in Connecticut.
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