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SIDELINES: Special Olympics shows us the real power of sports
Special Olympics are sports at its purest form. It’s an organization all about real, true sports, and ultimately using the power of sports as a vehicle to inspire and change lives.
As a sports reporter for the last umpteen years and as the father of kids participating in youth sports, I have seen the dark side from parents, coaches and kids.
The “fun” of playing sports as a youngster is sometimes taken away from the kids. Too many parents are pushing their kids too hard for the ever-elusive college scholarship and certain “select” coaches are making fake promises regarding those scholarships.
I will let you in on a little secret. If your kid is good enough at a certain sport, they will get to continue their athletic career in college. It makes zero difference to a college coach how many articles have been in the newspaper or what “select” team they played for when they were 10 years old.
All that drama is meaningless to Special Olympics athletes. They could care less about bad calls from a referee, only making the junior varsity or not getting their name in the newspaper.
They just go out on the field with a smile on their face and play the game how it’s supposed to be played — for the fun of it. It’s awesome to see.
Last weekend, I had the absolute honor of attending a Special Olympics fundraiser hosted by the Equinox Business Law Group in Bellevue, which honored teams from Federal Way and Bellevue.
If you didn’t know, the Special Olympics is an international non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with special needs to become physically fit, productive and instill in them a sense of accomplishment and a competitive spirit.
According to the Special Olympics website, “children and adults with special needs who participate in Special Olympics develop improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence and a more positive self-image. They grow mentally, socially and spiritually and, through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm, enjoy the rewards of friendship and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents but ‘their voices’ as well.”
In short, the Special Olympics strive for everything that’s great about sports. They teach actual life lessons. Stuff like how to work as a team, leadership, don’t ever give up despite the score, and being a good winner and a good loser, among thousands of other things.
The best moments of the fundraiser came when a pair of Special Olympians got up enough courage to share their stories with the crowd, which isn’t a small undertaking.
One of those speeches came from Auburn High School senior-to-be Tyler May, who brought down the house with his passionate backing of the Special Olympics. May described how his participation in Special Olympics has changed his life and given him the confidence he lacked before signing up.
“I can now look people in the eyes when I talk to them,” he said.
The autistic May was featured in the Auburn Reporter last year after he won the Special Olympics state golf championship and then made the Auburn Trojans’ varsity golf team.
Growing up, Tyler participated and did well in other sports, such as Little League baseball and soccer. It was all part of the family’s efforts to make Tyler’s life as normal as possible, to treat his autism without giving in to it.
Eventually the hectic pace of the games and the noise made it difficult for Tyler to enjoy the sports.
That’s when Tyler turned to golf.
“He’s been hitting balls since he was 7, but I couldn’t take him on the golf course because of his disability and anger management issues,” his father, Tom May, said. “It just wasn’t appropriate for me to take him out there.”
In May 2010, however, Tom figured Tyler was ready and signed him up as a member of the Jade Green’s Men’s Club, just down the road from their home.
That’s when things took off for Tyler.
“It was pretty tough at first. The coach told my teammates about my disability, so they understood what was going on,” Tyler said. “They are probably the best teammates to play with. They are really very kind people.”
“Every time he comes out to the golf course, it’s therapy for him,” Tom said. “His therapy never stops.”
That’s some pretty powerful stuff and quite a testimonial for the benefits of Special Olympics and sports in general.
Federal Way has always been on the cutting edge of allowing students with disabilities to participate in sports. Federal Way Public Schools is one of a few districts in the state that offers students with disabilities a chance to get out and play. There are currently about 100 student-athletes participating each season.
The program is free for students attending kindergarten through 12th grade within the district. Participants build self-esteem and fitness while gaining the opportunity to participate in an extracurricular activity at school and meet new people. Federal Way offers bowling, basketball, soccer and track.
For more information about the district’s Special Olympics athletic programs, contact Sharon Boyle at (253) 945-5576 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Special Olympics in Washington, visit specialolympicswashington.org. You can also make donations to the organization through the website.