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Kick-off Time at Super Fest

Story and Photographs by Robin Rayne

They came to pass, punt, tackle and cheer on Super Bowl weekend, with passion and determination worthy of any NFL team.

Less than a mile from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the actual 2019 Super Bowl game would unfold before millions, this inclusive football and cheerleading clinic known as Super Fest was underway for more than 120 children and young adults with developmental and other physical disabilities. 

A free-spirited young cheerleader practices her jump before the day’s ‘game.’

Cheerleaders from both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams teams were on hand to greet, teach and encourage all who came to the Georgia State University football practice field. They were joined by volunteer coaches, athletes, and alumni from the Atlanta Falcons, local universities and the National Football League.

“Our goal was to provide a realistic and enjoyable experience to individuals with disabilities and their peers, enabling everyone to participate in the excitement of the Big Game weekend,” explained Jessamy Tang, Super Fest’s organizer.

Tang, a former sports media executive for ESPN, and husband John Blascovich, a business executive, created the Mathew Foundation as a non-profit organization to improve lives for persons with Down Syndrome.  They named it after their ten-year-old son Matthew, who has Down Syndrome. 

“It is a private charitable foundation that strives to make a meaningful impact for persons with Down Syndrome, one program at a time,” Tang said. “We believe in collaboration within the national and global Down syndrome community as well as externally with both governmental and non-governmental organizations,” she said.

Tang, her husband, and foundation directors strongly believe the rights of children with disabilities to all forms of physical activity and sport are often not being realized, although they are enshrined in numerous legally-binding documents and are well-known components of healthy child development, health maintenance and chronic disease prevention.

Tang, 51, worked in sports radio media at ESPN for many years and cultivated numerous connections to celebrities, players and coaches in the pro-sports world. The Matthew Foundation organized Super Fest as an annual event to be hosted in the same city and week as each year’s Super Bowl, and is open to all youth and young adults.

Bill Ramsey, an NFL alumni, helps a young boy run for a touchdown
Shaelyn Lott, 9, Cumming, GA, gets coaching from New England Patriots cheerleaders
A young football fan tells a volunteer from Georgia State University to “Go out for a long one”
Jennifer Jackson pushes her 12-year-old son Aidan in his wheelchair through a scrimmage play.

Shaelyn Lott, 9, Cumming, GA, gets coaching from New England Patriots cheerleaders
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