Stories

Special Olympics Arkansas. Making a Space for Athletes with Intellectual Disabilities

A boy is on the track and field
Source: Special Olympics Arkansas

October 31, 2021

Delia Murry

Within the last year, it is easy to say everyone has felt a little disconnected from their normal routines. COVID-19 took away so many of our normal, everyday activities, and this is especially true for the Special Olympics Arkansas organization. Going from having roughly 245 games annually to having less than 10 the entire year of 2020, was not only difficult for the organization, but especially for the athletes involved. Having the opportunity to speak with their Director of Marketing and Partnerships, Camie Powell,  provided an insight into how the overall program had to adapt to the circumstance and push forward with the safety of players at the forefront of all they do.

What started as a summer camp in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s backyard in Washington D.C., has now become one of the largest organizations dedicated to including and uplifting people with intellectual disabilities. “Shriver Camp,” founded in 1962, was the first modern interpretation of what we now know as Special Olympics in the United States. Not even 6 years later was the first International Special Olympics held in Chicago after several successful summers at Shriver Camp. This international recognition was a giant leap in the right direction for not only people with family members with intellectual disabilities, but the people themselves. They now had an outlet for inclusion, improving their health, and creating lasting relationships in their communities. Now, after nearly five decades of Special Olympics, members are continuing their mission and continuing to use the power of sports and connection to improve the lives of members and their families alike.

With the temporary decline in cases, Special Olympics Arkansas was able to come together in person on June 24thand 25th for their annual Summer Games. Though it was on a smaller scale, the meaningful involvement that transpired was worth every second.  Powell revealed that, “we normally have roughly anywhere from 1200 to 2000 people attending these events,” and this year they had around 400 athletes in attendance. 

Any other summer you would find the athletes sticking around the events, talking with teammates, and watching other events.  This year, due to their “so-ready” COVID-19 protocols, athletes were given scheduled times to compete in their sport. When they were not competing, they were not at the venue.

“We would not be able to hold these events without volunteers,” said Powell about volunteer involvement in Summer Games. This year, volunteers have had an array of responsibilities. This can range anywhere from helping register members and teams for the games, COVID screenings, and even the role of coaching is through the work of volunteers. “We have a staff of 10 at Special Olympics Arkansas, everything else is 100% volunteer lead.”

As the summer winds down, Special Olympics Arkansas has recently finalized their fall calendar for events they will be holding. This calendar includes activities such as flag football, bowling, softball tournaments, and many more. We are excited to see the athletes get back to doing what they love, and for Special Olympics Arkansas to hit the ground running with this exciting lineup.

Coming up in the month of November, they will be hosting bowling and golf. Bowling will start in Pine Bluff, moving to Rogers later in the month.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in participating or helping with events for Special Olympics Arkansas, you can find more information at their website: http://www.specialolympicsarkansas.org/.

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