Greg Cummings is the patriarch of a soccer family: in the late-1970s when he worked for Cities Service in Tulsa, one of his favorite activities was cheering on the original Tulsa Roughnecks that competed in the NASL. All of his children are happiest on the pitch, and Cummings, now of Flower Mound, Texas, is all-in with FC Dallas.
But this is not just a story of a superfan. Cummings’ son Joey, who lives with Down Syndrome, plays for FC Dallas’ Special Olympics team. Greg coached Joey for seven years in Coppell Soccer’s special needs team, eventually leading Joey to join FC Dallas’ SO club along with his best friend, Yousef Malallah, and Joey’s older brother Matt, who plays as a partner on the team.
“Joey’s been part of Special Olympics since he was six,” Cummings said. “What FC Dallas does for these kids is just fantastic. We tell everybody about it. There’s a whole group of kids who want to try out the next time they build a team.”
FC Dallas’ SO team is coached by Cindy Schroeder and her sons, Kyle and Craig. Cummings said the coaching staff is exemplary in how they put the team through its paces.
“Kyle runs practices just like a regular soccer practice,” Cummings said. “I was impressed with how he was able to bring along Joey and Yousef, along with some of the lower-functioning kids, on drills. I knew they could play soccer, but I didn’t know how they’d do with the drills. It’s amazing.”
The FC Dallas Special Olympics team gets the full professional treatment, with each player signing a two-year contract and posing for team photos and posters. Players are assembled from throughout the DFW metroplex, and while the players come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, FC Dallas builds a strong sense of camaraderie among the members.
“It’s Allen, it’s Plano, Grand Prairie, Flower Mound,” Cummings said. “But it’s amazing what they’re like when they’re together.”
Cummings describes Joey as being a strong soccer player but not particularly fast, but speed deficits don’t keep Joey Cummings down. In September 2015, the player wasn’t happy with his performance, having not scored during the season, and as FC Dallas squared off against the L.A. Galaxy, Joey was subbed out during the second half and begging Craig Schroeder to put him back in. He wanted a chance to put one into the net, and Joey felt like it was his time. With five minutes left in the match, Joey subbed back in and successfully crossed to execute a crucial score, finishing off the L.A. Galaxy 3-1.
“He scored against the L.A. Galaxy,” Cummings said. “They caught it on video – he came running off the field and jumped into the coach’s arms.”
Cummings said the ongoing experience helps his son develop teamwork, sportsmanship, social skills and self-esteem.
“Everyone is so nice with the kids,” he said. “The athletes and the unified players get along so well. It’s so good for them, and some of these other kids, this is the first time they’ve been around this scenario. How well they all work together – the coaches, the partners and the special needs kids – is just wonderful.”