Courage, joy, friendship, and competition, these are the hallmarks of Special Olympics. Locally, the Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities sponsors teams and more than 100 athletes of varying ability levels in eight sports, all of which play as the Marion Hawks.
“The mission of Special Olympics Ohio is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community,” said Tabitha Butcher, community services manager for the program.
Marion’s Special Olympic program includes basketball, flag football, soccer, and swimming in the fall, as well as bocce ball, soccer, and track and field in the spring, and softball and unified golf in the summer. The Marion County Special Olympics Hawks have won 16 state basketball championships and three unified softball championships.
This summer included not only games, but several special events for the local athletes, not the least of which was the State Summer Games. In July, 10 athletes participated in the 2018 Special Skills Football Invitational at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The Marion athletes had the opportunity to showcase their abilities alongside several Ohio State football players. In August, the Marion Harks golf team participated in the Area 5 golf tournament at Twin Lakes in Mansfield. And, the softball season, which just ended, included a Special Skills Softball Camp for the local team and was played on a newly refurbished field.
“Special Olympics instill confidence and pride in athletes, on the field and in their lives,” said Butcher. “They participate in area events and state competition. It’s a friendly rivalry and an opportunity to show off their abilities.”
In order to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must be at least 8 years of age and have an intellectual disability, cognitive delay, or learning disability requiring special instruction that has been identified by an agency or a qualified professional. The program’s purpose is to contribute to the physical, social, and psychological development of the athletes. Through successful experiences in sports, they gain confidence and build a positive self-image which carries over into the classroom, home, job, and community.
Special Olympian Varrick Glaze, who participates in basketball, flag football, soccer, and swimming said, “Instead of just staying at the house, you get to get out and stay active, enjoy the fresh air. It makes me feel good to know I’m achieving my goals, but what I really like is helping others get better. It’s all about having fun and your friends being there to support you.”
The Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities also offers unified sports and events to bring all parts of the Marion community together. And, non-athletes can participate by volunteering or donating through programs such as Kroger Community Rewards.
Marion County Special Olympics has its own Facebook page where event schedules and updates on games and athletes are posted regularly. Additionally, information on volunteering, participating, and supporting Marion County Special Olympics is available by calling Tabitha Butcher at (740) 375-6185.
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