New Brunswick’s Agnew family is a Special Olympics family.
“I’ve had every one of my children, their spouses and all seven grandchildren involved in the Moncton area,” said 74-year-old Glen Agnew, volunteer regional coordinator for Special Olympics Moncton Southeast.
Glen, alongside his late wife Rita, were among the province’s first-ever volunteer coaches.
According to Glen, Rita’s boss at Moncton Community Residences Inc. – a group that provides housing for people with intellectual disabilities –asked them to help get Special Olympics New Brunswick off the ground in 1979.
He was told he’d only need to coach one hour per week for a year.
“And that was 40 years ago,” Glen said with a laugh.
He stuck around because “Special Olympics is such an easy group to coach,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how bad a game they had, or how good a game – they are just so appreciative of what the coaches do for them.”
The local athletes quickly became an intrinsic part of the Agnew family, many of them referring to Glenn and Rita as ‘mom and dad.’
They brought their own children – Jason, Carrie and Brian – along to practices and games as well.
“We didn’t have a babysitter, so they naturally had to come to the gym with us, so they just took it in,” said Glen.
They all, inevitably, became volunteers.
“I pretty much was born into it,” said Jason, now 45-years-old with three children of his own. “I remember being at dad’s knee as a kid, watching while he was coaching floor hockey.”
“What’s really neat, is three of those floor hockey athletes … I am actually coaching now.”
Jason, a local high school teacher, has recruited his wife, kids Jacob, Emma and Eyan, as well as a number of his students to volunteer.
“It’s a pretty easy sell,” he said. “Once we get them in, they’re hooked and it’s just part of your life, it’s part of who you are and what you do.”
Glen and Jason have also coached at Special Olympics World Games, Glen at the 2007 Games in Shanghai, Jason at the 2015 Games in Los Angeles and soon to be the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, where he’ll serve as an associate athletics coach March 14 to 21.
They’ve also travelled to Toronto for the Special Olympics Canada National Awards – more than once. In 2006, Rita received the Jim Thompson Award – given to volunteers who exemplify the spirit, philosophy and goals of the movement. In 2010, Glen also received the Jim Thompson Award and Jason was named Male Coach of the Year.
Sadly, Rita passed away in 2007 after a six-year battle with brain tumours. She volunteered throughout numerous surgeries and treatments and continued right up until two months before her death.
Special Olympics New Brunswick created a Spirit Award in her honour, and the rest of the Agnew family carries on her legacy as devoted volunteers.
In fact, Jason’s favourite moment from a lifetime of volunteering is the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Vancouver 2014. Glen was New Brunswick’s Team Manager, Jason was Head Coach for athletics and his son Jacob served as mission staff.
“We had three generations who were actually coaching at the same time,” Jason said proudly.