By Kyle LoJacono
Colton Larson wasn’t sure why he needed to be at the year-end banquet for Pasco County Special Olympics. He just knew he had to attend.
It was an evening well spent.
The Larsons were named the organization’s family of the year because of what Colton and his sister, Kelsee, have done with the program at Land O’ Lakes High.
“It was pretty cool,” Colton said. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
Vicky King, who started the school’s Special Olympics soccer program in 1986, said the Larsons are the first Land O’ Lakes High family to earn the county honor.
Colton, 23, started playing with Special Olympics while in sixth grade at Pine View Middle.
“I still remember my first game at Pine View,” Colton said. “That year we were second in the state and I scored. That was a lot of fun and I didn’t want to stop… It’s great playing soccer. It’s fun playing with other people with similar ability.”
The Gators’ program is in the masters division, which allows school graduates to play along with current students. The teams are also unified, which allows traditional athletes, such as Kelsee, to play with Special Olympics participants.
“That was probably the best experience I’ve ever had,” Kelsee said. “I love working with them. They’re so much fun.”
Kelsee, who recently graduated from Land O’ Lakes, started with the program three years ago, which has helped her relationship with Colton.
“Before, we never got along,” Kelsee said. “We kind of found our common ground with soccer. We still argue because we’re brother and sister, but it’s brought us closer.”
Kelly Larson, Colton and Kelsee’s mother, added, “She never really thought of Colton as anything but her big brother. She didn’t really think of him as disabled. By watching her brother play, it’s helped her see him in a different way… She didn’t give him any slack before, but now she does. It’s so cool to see them together now. She’s more patient and it’s a great thing.”
Kelly has also seen both grow away from the field because of Special Olympics. She told a story about how Kelsee helped a disabled girl who was being picked on in the cafeteria this year.
“She went up and defended her,” Kelly said. “That’s the kind of thing she’ll do now because of Special Olympics.”
Colton, who has cerebral palsy, became a better teammate because of soccer.
“He kind of looked at handicapped people as lesser than he is when he started,” Kelly said. “He was kind of a ball hog, but now he wants to work with the team. He doesn’t see himself in that category yet, but he’s now trying to help everybody instead of doing it all himself.”
Kelsee, a defender, also plays for the Gators girls soccer team. One thing that surprised her was how difficult the Special Olympics games are.
“Honestly, the games for Special Olympics were really hard, probably because I was trying to help the players think ahead, so it was more than just playing,” Kelsee said. “I got more winded in those games than in the actual high school games. It was hard. There are some good athletes in the Special Olympics.”
The Larson duo helped the LOL Blue team win the state level three championship the last two years. Colton said getting to win a pair of titles with Kelsee has been the best part of playing.
“It’s great getting to play with her,” Colton said. “A lot of times when I’d score it’s because she got the play started from the back. It’s been a lot of fun.”
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