Friday, 23 February 2018

Special Olympics is Special

Special Olympics is a Special Thing

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I was reminded this week of the greatness that is Special Olympics.  On Thursday, my students participated in the Regional Qualifier Bocce Tournament for the Special Olympics Ontario School Program at the BMO Centre in London, Ontario.  Teams that qualify have the opportunity to compete in the Provincial Championships that are held in late May or early June each year.  This year they will be in Peterborough, Ontario from May 29-31st, and we are planning to be there.  We compete over the school year in 3 on 3 Basketball, Bocce and Floor Hockey - just a few of the many sports that run for Special Olympians through the program.  If you want to know more about all the activities, the organization itself, it's history or how to get involved or donate to it, I urge you to check out the North American website. or follow Special Olympics Ontario on Twitter.  I just wanna write about how it directly makes a difference in the lives of my students and myself.

The Special Olympics Motto is: 

"Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

It is so much more than that.  It really isn't about winning (although some of our more competitively spirited athletes and coaches might disagree with me here). While all the athletes are showing courage of spirit and sportsmanship, it's benefits go beyond that.

It's about taking the rigid confines that can be competitive sports and bending them like plasticine.  It's about letting them be themselves and participate in whatever way they are able to.    The rules of the game are modified to suit their needs.  The equipment and playing space are changed to allow everyone to be a part of the game. It's about achieving your own personal best and not comparing it to anyone else's.  It's about learning to play and improving your own personal fitness level.  It's being a part of a team, but also showcasing your own unique talents.  And boy is it FUN!

I've been lucky to be a coach, spectator and convener of many Special Olympic tournaments and activities and while getting things organized can be a load of work and sometimes stressful, it is truly a labour of love.  Once the athletes are there and the games are underway, my heart fills with joy.  The smiles on the athletes faces could light up a stadium.  I've seen acts of sportsmanship that outdo any highlight reel or special interest clip on TSN.  Athletes and coaches support each other, cheer for each other and delight in each success.  There is plenty of the thrill of victory and never any agony in defeat, because being a part of it all is the victory.

I put together a Special Olympics co-ed golf foursome last year.  We are the only one in our board so far, but I'm hoping it spreads.  We go to the same tournaments that the other teams in our school and board go to and participate as our own division.  We were welcomed at the Girls WOSSA tournament this fall.  Those four golfers don't care about the score, or that we are not competing against any other teams, or that the way they swing the clubs doesn't look like the way anyone else does.  Balls go in the water, in the rough, out of bounds and sometimes even straight down the fairway to make that satisfying plunk as it drops in the hole.  They learn, they try their best and they laugh a lot.  They just want to play.

Pure joy of the game.  

It just doesn't get any better, or more special, than that.

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