“Overwhelming. Very overwhelming,” Anthony Cahoon said of the homecoming celebration his family, friends and neighbors threw for him when he got back home to Marissa.
Cahoon, 26, was the guest of honor in a parade Tuesday afternoon to mark his participation in the International Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. He was a member of the U.S. 7-A side soccer team, which on Saturday won the bronze medal after defeating the Faroe Islands team 3-2.
Cahoon was one of four metro-east residents at the games and was the only area athlete to compete there.
“It’s exciting, it really is,” said Connie Schilling shortly before the parade came past the First Baptist Church lawn where she and her family watched. “And it couldn’t have happened to a better kid. He loves his God. That’s the most important thing in his life.”
Schilling would know. She goes way back with Cahoon’s family from the days when they worshiped together at a now-closed church on the south side of town. “I used to change his diapers,” she said.
Townspeople lined Main Street uptown, cheering and waving American flags and homemade posters as Cahoon passed by, waving and wearing a smile a mile wide, from the bed of a pickup truck. One of his coaches, Rich Crothers of Mascoutah, was driving the truck. A Marissa fire truck, police cars from Marissa and Freeburg and a handful of motorcyclists flanked Cahoon along the parade route.
After the parade, residents gathered at the community building for a meal and reception.
Cahoon said playing soccer on an international level was “unbelievable.”
Part of his experience that will stick with him, he said, was the fact that teams competing against one another in each day’s games joined together for dinner each evening. He also appreciated the fans who seemed to “come out of the woodwork” to shake hands, give hugs and ask him to sign soccer balls and dollar bills.
“A kid even asked me to sign his forehead,” Cahoon said. “It was overwhelming.”
And then there was the homecoming.
“What really hit me was coming through town, seeing old school teachers I haven’t seen in years, family I haven’t seen in years,” Cahoon said about the parade. “The plane ride (from Los Angeles) was long and delayed, the train was long, I was tired and weary. I’m not even tired anymore. I’m alive.”
But being back home in Marissa means getting back to business. Cahoon will be back at work at the New Athens Home for the Aged Wednesday.