From the very first time John Rogers participated with Special Olympics Minnesota, he was hooked. John had participated in Special Olympics in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, before moving to Minnesota for college in 2006. When he arrived in Minnesota, he got connected with the Special Olympics team in Bemidji, where he was an athlete and coach for over 15 years. Now, John works at Bemidji High School as a paraprofessional, supporting Special Olympics Unified programming district-wide.

When he first joined Special Olympics, John played softball and basketball on Bemidji community teams. During his time as an athlete, John was a leader on his team, always cheering on his teammates. “I’m a team player and a team leader,” John says. “I’ve been told that people look up to me for encouragement.”

After several years, John’s coaches noticed his natural leadership abilities. “My coaches saw the leadership I had on the team. I would just rally the group together and have a positive attitude on the field,” John says. John was encouraged to give coaching a try, and 6 years and 4 sports later, he found a passion.

John has coached basketball, flag football, soccer, and track and field. He loves many things about coaching, especially prioritizing teamwork and positivity on his teams. “I want to teach athletes the sport itself. Some athletes can get discouraged, but I always just tell them to take it one day, one step at a time.”

John leads by example. “Have a positive attitude,” John says. “Athletes will see that and appreciate that in coaches.”

John used the skills he gained from being a Special Olympics Minnesota coach to land his job as a special education paraprofessional at Bemidji High School. “Before becoming a para, I was trying to find work and applying different places,” John says. “I was getting discouraged trying to find something that fit my skills. Eventually, I did an internship for a few months with the Bemidji High School Unified program and from there became a para.” John is starting his third year as a paraprofessional this fall. “I never thought I would become a para. But I’m blessed for what has become Unified in the Bemidji School District.”

John has been a part of several pivotal initiatives within the Bemidji School District, including the first Unified Gala in northern Minnesota, an event created and executed by the Bemidji High School Unified Club to raise funds for Unified programming at their school. John also supports disability education efforts for Bemidji High School’s Unified partners. “Jackie Stoffel, a Bemidji High School Unified P.E. teacher, and I teach our Unified partners about the various disabilities that relate to our athletes,” he says.

Working with Bemidji High School is certainly a highlight of John’s time with Special Olympics Minnesota. “The stories I get to hear from the students, the life-changing things they have done to create inclusion and working together has really touched and blessed me,” John says. “It’s about knowing we are making a difference.”

John’s mantra is “work together.” He’s seen this in action dozens of times during his time as a coach and athlete, but he was most recently impressed with the teamwork on Bemidji High School’s Unified basketball team. During their state qualifying game, they were down by several points, and he could see the team start to get discouraged. “I gathered the team together and told them to take it one shot at a time,” John said. His pep talk encouraged the team to get back out to the court and gain the lead by eight points, leading the team to victory. Because of this win, John was able to bring both teams to the Unified State Basketball Tournament.

Over the last several years, John has seen the impact of Special Olympics Minnesota programming in his community. “I’ve seen more inclusion and kindness,” John said. He encourages anyone interested in becoming involved with Special Olympics Minnesota to “come and try it! Share your experience. You don’t have to be perfect at anything; there are volunteers and coaches willing to work with you and teach. Don’t be afraid to try.”

John feels pure joy when spending time with Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners, and this joy fuels his passion for coaching. He believes that by working together, we can accomplish anything.

John is a Champion of Inclusion. He is a devoted athlete, coach and leader in the Inclusion Revolution and we are so lucky to have him leading the charge in the Bemidji community!