Evan Mulrooney was a trendsetter. An experiment, in some ways. His mother worked as an occupational therapist, at a preschool for children with cognitive and physical disabilities. Not wanting to commute to another school before heading to work, she put young Evan in hers.

(Via umterps.com) (Via umterps.com)

“I was so young that I just saw the other kids as kids, not as them having cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome,” Mulrooney said Friday by phone. “I saw it as, ‘Oh, there’s John and Steve. Let’s go play with them.’”

Growing up around individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities helped shape Mulrooney’s perspective and pique his interest for helping them. Until third grade he was best friends with a child with cystic fibrosis named Jack. It’s what got the Maryland center involved with the Best Buddies walk last spring and earned him a volunteer gig last summer.

Mulrooney recruited roughly 20 teammates to participate in this year’s event, held Saturday at Ritchie Coliseum on the College Park campus. Coach Randy Edsall is serving as the honorary chairman. The non-profit organization pairs disabled individuals with buddies without disabilities to hang out, have lunch or whatever the mood strikes.

“I acknowledge the fact that they have disabilities and they may not fully develop like someone like me or someone on my team, but I’ve always just seen them as people just like us, whether they’re in walkers or look different or act different,” said Mulrooney, currently listed as the backup center following spring football. “I’ve always treated it like that. I guess I’d say I have a passion for it, because I’ve always been around it. When I’m around the kids, my mom enjoys that too. It was a way for me and my mom to bond over the years, to have that common goal.”

Mulrooney said his squadron of Terrapins aren’t dealing with funding and haven’t decided whether they’ll participate in the actual walk. Just like last year, they’re there to interact with children, set up activities and take pictures with fans, helping raise awareness for the program and its mission.

“It’ll catch on then,” Mulrooney said of his teammates. “It’ll be pretty clear that it’s easy to talk to these kids and have fun.”