Last May, 14-year-old Spencer Mackenzie, a freshman at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, went to his 8th grade football coach to ask him if he would partner with him in order to help end the use of the “R” word.
Spencer has a sister with special needs so he knows first hand how hurtful the word “retard” or “retarded” can be to people with special needs or intellectual disabilities. As a child he grew up going to his sister’s Special Olympics events.
His coach, Matt Bowles, agreed with the idea of replacing the R-word with the word “respect”. He gave Spencer the platform to speak to the entire middle school. The students, teachers and coaches at Liberty enthusiastically received the speech. Spencer then decided he could reach a bigger audience if he spread the word to other high schools and colleges.
He chose to contact the head coach of football teams because the student body usually looks up to the football team and Spencer thought it was a great way to get the word out. He had t-shirts printed with the slogan, “SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE WORD www.r-word.org” and bought a banner for the football team to sign and display in their student union.
One of the coaches Spencer reached out to about the R-word campaign was Bill Snyder from Kansas State. Spencer wrote a letter asking for a meeting to discuss the Kansas State football team taking the pledge to end the use of the R-word and make a positive social change on the Kansas State campus.
Coach Snyder was the first NCAA coach to personally meet with Spencer. His reply came in the form of an e-mail, which read, “Thank you, Spencer, for your passionate stand and support on such a significant cause. Would enjoy meeting with you in March.”
On March 29, 2011, Spencer had the pleasure of meeting Coach Snyder in his office overlooking the football field at Kansas State, home of the Wildcats. Coach Snyder has six national Coach of the Year awards, five-conference Coach of the Year awards, and has been credited with the architect of the “greatest turnaround in the history of college football”.
During the meeting, Coach Snyder agreed to have the entire Kansas State football team take a stand to raise awareness of the hurtful effects of the words “retard” or “retarded”. They will be taking the pledge to support the cause to end the use of the R-word.
While visiting with Coach Snyder, Spencer also met Coach Joe Gordon, a former NFL player who is now the Director of Recruiting for Kansas State Football. Coach Gordon was excited to spread the word and promptly put on the R-word T-shirt.
When asked how the meeting went, Spencer replied, “I was so impressed with the character and integrity of both Coach Snyder and Coach Gordon. They are both passionate about making a difference within their football team and their community. I feel very honored that they took the time to meet with me and that they share my passion to build awareness in society that leads to a positive social change.”
Spencer plans to contact all the teams in the Big 10 conference as a starting point and hopes that they will all follow Coach Snyder’s lead to take the pledge.