Coaching is an endangered profession at almost every level these days. Jacqueline Perkins Schroeder seems immune to most of the occupational hazards, though.

Schroeder doesn’t deal with contract disputes or drug scandals. Smiles are the universal language on her team.

When one of Schroeder’s athletes sees her walking in their direction with clipboard or stopwatch in hand, no automatic scowl is returned, no invisible wall raised.

Her athletes are special in the greatest sense of the word.

“The words ‘teamwork’ and ‘team spirit’ come to mind when I think of our team of athletes,” Schroeder said. “Some professional sports teams could take lessons from them on team sportsmanship, cheering on teammates and congratulating your opponents.”

Take that from a woman who coaches the elite athletes in her profession. Schroeder, a graduate of Rumford High School and the University of Maine, has been named an assistant track and field coach for Team USA at the upcoming Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai, China.

The team will depart California on Sept. 26 and enjoy the role of tourists before the beginning of the games, scheduled for Oct. 2-11.

Schroeder, an adjunct therapist with the Hozhoni Foundation in Flagstaff, Ariz., is one of 102 coaches overseeing more than 400 athletes with Team USA. Her athletes hail from New York, Texas, South Carolina and Idaho.

“Each coach has been assigned four to five athletes to contact and train with,” Schroeder said. “We have been in contact since January through phone calls and e-mails.”

Coaches also met with their athletes last month at a Team USA training camp in Tennessee.

World Games officials expect more than 40,000 volunteers and 3,500 officials to cover 16 sports venues during the 10-day event.

“The track and field competition offers pretty much everything you see in the Olympics except for the javelin,” Schroeder said.

“They’ve added things like the 100-meter walk and substituted a softball throw for the shot put, things like that. But we have everything from the high jump to the long jump to the pentathlon.”

Schroeder caught the attention of Team USA organizers after coaching at last year’s Special Olympics national competition in Ames, Iowa.

It was a natural progression from Schroeder’s day-to-day work with the Hozhoni Foundation, which oversees a wide spectrum of social activities for developmentally disabled adults.

She coaches bocce, basketball, swimming, bowling, snowshoeing, cycling, softball and floor hockey. Schroeder also plans a four-day river trip, a week-long sports and crafts day camp and several camping trips every year.

“When an athlete comes up to me and says, ‘Thanks, Jackie, for being a great coach,’ or maybe someone just smiles in a way that I know they are enjoying themselves, that’s what makes my day and job special,” she said.

Schroeder’s challenging and rewarding career path comes as no surprise to her parents, Gerry and Joyce Perkins, or her grandparents, Raymond and Louise Perkins, each from Orrington.

“Most special needs coaches get little recognition, because they coach for the love of it as we all do or did,” said Gerry Perkins, a retired teacher and wrestling coach at Rumford and Mountain Valley. “We are so very proud of her chosen profession and the Olympic Committee recognizing her.”

An art major at Maine, Schroeder had experience teaching special needs students when she responded to Hozhoni’s newspaper ad shortly after moving to Flagstaff six years ago.

It was a fateful choice that is about to take her around the world.

“London is the farthest I’ve ever traveled,” she said. “I’m honored. I learn so much while I’m working with these athletes.”

There’s a lesson for all of us there, somewhere.

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