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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Ever since Tedric Thompson was in high school, he knew he wanted to spend time with Special Olympic athletes. But the Valencia High School football player was never able to break away from his schedule in Los Angeles to allow for it.
“My schedule in football always intervened with it, (but) I told myself I’d get a chance to do it,” he said.
And on June 25, Thompson had his chance.
Now in his third year with the Seattle Seahawks, the National Football League free safety spent time in Southeast Alaska, and played bocce with local Special Olympic athletes at Ketchikan’s City Park.
Bocce, a game which has a similar form to bowling, allows players to roll their team’s ball as close to the pallino — or distance marker — as possible to score points.
“It was fun,” Thompson said of spending time with Special Olympic athletes. “It’s something that I’ve never done before. … So it was good I actually did it, and it felt good to put a smile on these kids’ faces. It’s a blessing.”
Thompson was in town through the Mat-Su Seahawkers booster club, and was able to spend time with the 12th man fanbase in the Last Frontier.
He visited Metlakatla and Ketchikan before traveling farther north.
“The Seahawks take players to Alaska every summer,” said Mike Flood, the vice president of community outreach for the Seahawks. “We’ve got so many fans up here; we want them to know that we care.
“The whole thing about the 12 is that it’s not just about the team; it’s about the fans,” he continued. “And we’ve got a ton of loyal fans up here. We haven’t been to Ketchikan for a long time, so we came to Ketchikan this year.”
And the local Special Olympic athletes loved every minute of it.
“This was really cool,” said Ardath Peterson, the Ketchikan Special Olympics’ point of contact. “It’s really nice that somebody got ahold of us and said, ‘Hey, can we come play with you?’ Especially somebody as popular as the Seahawks, and especially with most people being fans — myself included. So it was really nice to have them come and get the attention, which they enjoyed.”
Thompson teamed up with Special Olympic athletes Joe Peterson and Holly Turely during a pair of bocce games.
“I’ve never played bocce before — never even heard of it,” Thompson said. “I was just going with the flow.”
Luckily, Joe Peterson and Turely were able to help the 24-year-old professional athlete out.
“The first couple (rounds), I was way off the ball,” Thompson said. “Joe looked at me, and told me a little something.”
And Joe Peterson’s words of advice for the Seahawks’ safety worked.
“I think I got better after that,” Thompson said.
It was that “team first” mentality that helped Thompson’s team to a pair of victories.
“They taught me how to get it done, and I feel like I did good,” Thompson said. “They definitely did (carry me), bro.”
Before Thompson stayed the night in Ketchikan, he stopped at Metlakatla to spend time with the 12th man fanbase there.
“We partnered with Tlingit and Haida, the regional tribe for Southeast, to make the Metlakatla trip happen,” Flood said via text message.
Mixed in with a pair of bocce games were opportunities for autographs and photos with Thompson, who wears No. 33 for the Seahawks.
And there were plenty of hugs and handshakes to go around.
“It is really neat,” Ardath Peterson said. “Joe, who is my son, got to play with him. He really enjoyed it. … (When Thompson came) I said, ‘You know, you and I had a favorite player. Who was it?’ And (Joe) said, ‘It’s Russell Wilson.’ But he says, ‘but now my favorite player is Tedric Thompson.’”
That personal connection goes a long way.
“They realize that they can be included in stuff, and have a fun time and enjoy things,” Ardath Peterson said.
Every year, after visiting the fanbase in Alaska, the Seahawks return home to Seattle, and share their experiences with their teammates.
The Seahawks enjoy the long hours of sunlight, the scenery, and the wildlife and fishing.
“They just rave about (it),” Flood said. “It’s a different experience.”
But for as many of those once in a lifetime experiences that Thompson enjoyed during his time in the Last Frontier, none were more rewarding than that of those memories he made with the Special Olympic athletes.
Their smiles meant more than words.
“It’s special,” he said. “Because you never know how you can make somebody’s day. They probably feel like I made their day, but they really made mine. It made me just take a step back, and just realize the world, and get perspective from somebody else’s point of view.”