From Roman coliseums to middle school gyms to 100,000 seat stadiums we have always gathered to celebrate sport. Sport unites us across religions, politics, race, nationalities, and geography. It can enrich our lives. It can also divide us. Sport is powerful. It can bring out the best and worst in us. In this season of joy, I cast a celebratory eye to sport for the athletes who inspire and teams I cheer.

Nelson Mandela understood the power of sport. "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."

Sport teaches young athletes about trying and succeeding, about trying and failing and trying again. I celebrate athletes who sweat when others wonít, who try their best when they are tired and hurt and who are not afraid to try, fail and get back up. Nowhere in sport is that more evident than with Special Olympics.

I celebrate every single Special Olympian, their coaches and parents. They exemplify the essence of sport and embody that to which we all should aspire captured so beautifully in their athlete oath, "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

I celebrate coaches who understand that their primary role is to instruct and encourage. These are coaches for whom the development of young men and women is primary and the scoreboard is secondary. I celebrate coaches who notice a kid whose shoes are a little too small or whose ball glove a little too worn. Those who reach into their own wallets and do what the kidís parents may not be able to do. Father and mother figures when a kid needs one. Heroes. Do you know such a coach? Let me know.

I celebrate moms and dads who, after a long dayís work, change their clothes, forgo dinner and head to the gym or field. To play catch, rebound, shag balls, whatever, just to hang out with their kids or other folkís kids. Parents who wipe tears, offer encouragement after a strike out and greet their young warriors with a smile and a hug, no matter the outcome of the game. Parents who understand what is really important in life and who impart those values to kids.

I celebrate teenage referees and umpires who are just trying to make a little extra money and donít deserve the wrath they get from some coaches and parents. Oh, they might make wrong calls, but they do not deserve wrath. They are someoneís son or daughter. Pat them on their backs. Remember what is really important in life.

When I see my kids play games I see sport as fun and health promoting. No contracts. No agents. No scouts. Not yet. Probably not ever. And thatís just fine. Years from now they will remember the fun and carry with them lessons for a lifetime about teamwork, goal setting, achievement and accountability. About caring coaches and supportive parents. About falling down and getting back up. Now thatís something to celebrate in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Dr. Lori Boyajian-OíNeill can be contacted at