Sports for all the aim
Special Olympics officials hold event to introduce younger kids to activities, programs
Special Olympics Ontario wants sports to be the great equalizer and their Sports Festival at East Ridge Community School on Tuesday was part of that effort.
Elementary students with intellectual disabilities from across the Bluewater District School Board joined together for a day of “ability-appropriate” games and activities promoting physical activity and healthy living.
The growing program now involves more than 20 events across the province introducing students, teachers, and families to the Special Olympics and their local activities.
“The whole point of the sports festival is to engage younger athletes in sports and physical activity and provide a supportive environment,” said Josh Budish, a program director with Special Olympics Ontario. “It’s really meant to be an entry point to the Special Olympics movement and provide a really happy experience. If they have fun here it’s more likely they’ll remain in sports throughout their lives.”
The gym at East Ridge was split in two with younger athletes developing their skills with games of tag, soccer, indoor curling and bowling. The older students participated in sport-specific activities building teams and playing pick-up basketball.
“Bowling is always a big hit,” said Budish. “You would think the kids would get bored of rolling a ball over and over again, but when they see those pins just explode all over the place it’s like you’ve never seen kids so happy in your life.”
Barb King is involved with the Owen Sound & District chapter of Special Olympics Ontario and said she wants these introductory events leading to younger athletes taking advantage of the activities in Owen Sound.
Currently the district offers eight Special Olympic sports locally for the fall/winter season including 5-pin bowling, basketball, floor hockey and swimming.
“As an individual with intellectual disabilities grows older their skill level doesn’t progress the same as other students, and so we often see these students not participating in minor sports,” said King.
Budish offered similar sentiments, and noted the Special Olympics started as a way to prevent people with intellectual disabilities experiencing a negative impact on their quality of life as they age.
“People with intellectual disabilities had so many more issues with things like obesity and diabetes later in life,” said Budish. “Programs like this and other Special Olympics programs which exist in the community are really meant to make sure young athletes understand that being involved in sport can be fun and the Special Olympics are there to support whatever additional needs they might have.”
King said her previous experience working in local schools illuminated the plight of students with intellectual disabilities who would watch their friends or siblings playing sports in the community without an equal opportunity to participate.
“That’s the piece that’s been missing in terms of being a part of the community,” said King.
“As much as we like to think of our community as inclusive I think there’s some things out there which, in order for people to be fully involved, we need to provide these kinds of programs.”
The Special Olympics officials hope these school partnerships raise enough awareness to grow participation in local sports and activities.
“My hope is that they go home and tell their parents about how much they enjoyed the Special Olympics and then their mom looks into the swag bag they go home with and pulls out the Owen Sound flyer and gets in touch,” said Budish.
Volunteers from the Owen Sound District Secondary School’s leadership class helped to organize the activities and facilitate the fun.
Visit the Special Olympics Ontario website for local event and registration information.
Josh Budish (centre, red shirt), program director with Special Olympics Ontario, organizes volunteers from the leadership class of Owen Sound District Secondary School as they prepare for the afternoon session of the Sports Festival at East Ridge Community School in Owen Sound on Tuesday.
Students play basketball during the Special Olympics Sports Festival at East Ridge Community School on Tuesday. The provincial program aims to introduce students with intellectual disabilities to local Special Olympics initiatives.