Photos courtesy David Gonzales
It was a hot, scorching day in Inglewood Saturday as over 400 participants and 100 volunteers gathered at Edward Vincent Jr Park for Super Fest – an annual event held by the Matthew Foundation the day before the Super Bowl. Temperatures over 90 degrees did not stifle the joy and commitment of hundreds of participants, who came together to help children with Down Syndrome feel included and empowered during Super Bowl weekend.
The event welcomes people of all ages and abilities to participate in a 3 hour long game day experience, which includes live performances of the national anthem, entrance of football players into the stadium through a cheerleading tunnel, football scrimmages, and cheer performances.
“We want kids and people to have the opportunity to feel like they are a part of Super Bowl weekend,” said Jessamy Tang, the chairperson of the Matthew Foundation and one of the coordinators of the Super Fest event. “We do this because we’ve seen how important inclusion is, and how horrible it is when these kids are not included.”
The event is put together and run by volunteers from the local community. Volunteers are able to sign up for different tasks including helping to set up the event, making lunches for the participants, as well as helping to teach the participants how to cheerlead, play football, dance, and much more.
“It’s all about the local community,” Tang said “This entire event is all about bringing the community together to create a special day.”
Long Beach Poly was one of the high schools that participated in this event, as Poly head football coach Stephen Barbee was inspired to help give back to the kids.
“I used to work with a coach who helped run the camp. He let me know about this event, and about how it works with people with special needs,” said Barbee. “I definitely said yes, as it was something I felt was really important from a program standpoint.”
Coach Barbee highly encouraged each of his players to volunteer, as he realizes how important it is for his players to help give back to those in need.
“The kids in our program are very blessed to be able to go and play a sport that we love. Not everyone has the ability to do that,” said Barbee. “It is a great way for us to share and enjoy the sport that we all love with these kids. It also teaches our players to think of other people besides themselves, and have empathy for other people.”
Inspired by Barbee, many Long Beach Poly football players attended the event as volunteers, including Darius Curry, Devin Samples, Travis Davis, Taylen Winston, Joshua Cason, as well as Poly assistant coach Jim Chambers.
The players helped to teach kids football skills such as throwing and catching, running plays, kicking field goals, and much more. Throughout the entire event, the volunteer athletes were encouraging the kids with high fives and brought a positive energy that made it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Star defensive back Daylen Austin was one of the Poly football players that attended.
“We see it as a great opportunity to give back to the community,” said Austin. “You know, this entire community has supported us even through Covid, the championship, through everything, and it’s important that we support them also.”
Tang said she’s appreciative of the help they get from schools like Poly, as it can help to inspire others to also give back and promote inclusion.
“So many parents feel like it’s not possible to find ways to include these kids and make them feel welcome, but that’s not true,” Tang said. “Things like this are possible. So for them, and all people in general, it’s about opening their eyes and welcoming people. And I’m so thankful that we have so many athletes and coaches in the community that can help with that.”
Both participants and volunteers have taken something positive and inspirational from this event that they can remember for the rest of their lives.
“I’m blessed that we are able to give back and help others,” said Austin. “When we see how happy we make these kids, it’s a good feeling.”