Vahe Gregorian

The personal experience that led to Chiefs’ Andy Reid advocating for Special Olympics

Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid dabs with Special Olympians

Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid recently filmed PSAs for Special Olympics Missouri. This outtake shows a playful side of Reid the public doesn’t often see.
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Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid recently filmed PSAs for Special Olympics Missouri. This outtake shows a playful side of Reid the public doesn’t often see.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Andy Reid’s sense of the world was formed by many factors: his mother’s career in radiology; his father’s work as an artist and scene designer; a job that led to catering gigs at The Tonight Show … and a showdown with John Wayne as the teen Reid refused to allow the screen legend more than the allotted three meatballs.

Among others. Less-known is that the outlook of the Chiefs’ coach also was framed by his learning-disabled cousin, Peter Leon, across the country in New England.

As children, Reid felt close to Peter and protective of him. He also appreciated the influential example in how Peter’s family encouraged and challenged him, Reid said, leading to Peter being able to hold jobs and ski and fish and live a normal life.

That’s why in college at Brigham Young, Reid volunteered for Special Olympics events as a “host family.”

“It was just me,” he said, laughing, meaning before he got married and his wife, Tammy, became involved.

Those experiences help explain why Reid is doing something for Special Olympics Missouri he rarely does: appearing in public-service announcements.

The PSAs to be unveiled Aug. 1 are designed to raise awareness of the programs and services and will ask Missourians and Chiefs fans to support Special Olympics Missouri in the wake of severe tornado damage to its Training For Life campus in Jefferson City.

According to the organization, Special Olympics Missouri serves more than 16,000 Missourians with intellectual disabilities seeking “to empower themselves to be productive members of communities.”

As Reid engages with children that include Zach Pingeton, the son of University of Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton, those who don’t know Reid well will see a more playful side than they might realize he possesses given his typically buttoned-down public persona.

“It’s a great cause,” said Reid, who considers the organization an inspiration … as does defensive lineman Chris Jones, the first Champion for KC Metro Special Olympics, and former Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles — a former special Olympian himself.

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Chiefs coach Andy Reid exchanges fist-bumps with Special Olympians Brooks Meyer and Zachary Pingeton, right. Kayla Hull Special Olympics Missouri

Reid also embraced the campaign as a gesture of friendship to Brian Neuner, the former sports director at Columbia, Missouri TV station KOMU. The two have known each other since Reid was an assistant coach at the University of Missouri from 1989 to 1991.

Neuner, who recently became Special Olympics Missouri’s chief development and marketing officer, is grateful for Reid’s help. And he relished how Reid left everyone comfortable and smiling with such gestures as leading a group “dab,” or celebratory pose.

Those interested in further information or offering support can learn more on the organization’s website, SOMOcampus.org.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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