By William K. Alcorn
The focus of Special Olympics is on competition, sportsmanship, teamwork to promote healthy living and friendships developed over the years of participating.
It is sport in its purest form, celebrating the competitive nature of humans struggling to overcome adversity and perform to the best of their ability. The athletes of Special Olympics are the embodiment of this endeavor, said David Grossman, chairman and local coordinator for the Mahoning County DD Special Olympics Committee.
Each sporting event begins by the athletes repeating the Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
“For some of these participants, being brave on the competitive field is a respite from the challenge of everyday life,” Grossman said. “Many Special Olympians face tests that would frustrate and discourage most of us, and yet the desire to compete is strong and provides courage for the ups and downs of life and sport.”
As an affiliated program of the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Mahoning County DD Special Olympics benefits from the use of board transportation services, facilities for practice venues, and the support of staff and administration for fundraising, said Larry Duck, superintendent of the Mahoning County Board, 4791 Woodridge Drive, Austintown.
The local program is 100 percent locally funded through community donations. There are no paid employees.
Board members, coaches, and volunteers donate countless hours at practices and competitions to see the athletes raise their hands in victory, drop their heads in disappointment, strive for a personal best or just to have the ability to be a part of a team and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with teamwork, Duck said.
It is not uncommon to see an athlete stop to assist a fallen competitor, momentarily suspend their efforts to enjoy the moment, bask in the spotlight and have a little fun or help a lesser athlete achieve a goal just for the thrill of helping others, Duck said.
“Competing athletes helping each other succeed displays the depth of compassion and the degree of sportsmanship that exists between those striving for a common goal,” Duck said. “In most cases, the common goal isn’t to win but to compete fairly, show respect for your opponent, and to triumph by participating.”
The Mahoning County DD Special Olympics program offers a variety of sports, including baseball, basketball, bowling, swimming, track and field and volleyball. All sports are under the supervision of the Special Olympics Committee, and each sport has a head coach and volunteers to assist with practices and games.
Various tournaments and events take place throughout the state to bring athletes together. The last weekend in June is reserved for the State Summer Games at Ohio State University’s main campus in Columbus, where local athletes participate in track and field events, swimming and volleyball.
The Mahoning DD Special Olympics organization will soon offer golf at one of the local courses to provide another opportunity for individuals to complete and succeed, said Grossman of Girard, who has been involved volunteering for Special Olympics since 1982 when he was a student at Ursuline High School. “It’s a good group to be around,” he said.
Each sport has its own events. For instance, there are track meets May 4 at East Liverpool High School and May 11 at Girard High School.
At any event, athletes from Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties participate, said Grossman, controller of Home Savings in Youngstown.
The Special Olympics movement was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The first International Special Olympics Games were at Soldier Field in Chicago in July 1968 with 1,000 people from 26 states and Canada competing in track and field and swimming events.
In June and July 2011, the Special Olympics World Summer Games were in Athens, Greece, with nearly 7,000 athletes from 170 countries taking part.