By Clinton Smith
Local student-athletes showed off their special talents recently when Union City High School hosted the Upper West Tennessee Special Olympics Spring Games April 4.
One hundred and twenty seven Special Olympics athletes from nine schools in Obion, Weakley, and Henry counties participated. The annual event was sponsored by Upper West Tennessee Special Olympics. Athletes participated in track-and-field events such as the 50- and 100-meter dash, softball throw, standing long jump, running long jump, and a new event that was introduced this year, the mini-javelin.
Twelve students from Upper West Tennessee will be chosen to attend the Special Olympics Tennessee Summer Games in Nashville, which will be held May 17-18 at Lipscomb University.
The mission of Upper West Tennessee Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The experience gives participants 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.
Each year, the organization hosts two bowling tournaments, a basketball skills day, and three spring games events. In addition, during the school year, Athlete Training Nights are held to provide athletes with skills of learning different sports such as soccer, volleyball, flag football, basketball, baseball, and other fun activities.
Funding to help support these events is provided through local donations and the annual Polar Plunge event held each winter. The 9th annual Polar Plunge raised more than $20,000 for Upper West Tennessee Special Olympics in February. More than 100 registered plungers braved the icy water at Aloha Pools and Spas in Union City for this year’s event.
Special Olympics is transforming perceptions of people with disabilities. While these perceptions have changed over the years, people with disabilities are still widely viewed as dependent people with limited potential, when they are in fact — with the addition of inclusion — independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors and leaders who make a valuable contribution everywhere.
The Spring Special Olympics event had more than 50 volunteers from UT Martin Athletics and student organizations, athletes from Bethel University, Westview High School Key Club members and West Carroll High School students. The Northwest Tennessee Photography Club sent four members to commemorate this year’s event. Volunteers are given opportunities for community service, but they receive much more than that after being involved. The volunteers make new friends and become part of the inclusion movement.
Full participation is granted to every athlete regardless of his or her economic circumstances. The ultimate goal of Special Olympics is to help persons with intellectual disabilities participate as productive and respected members of society at large by offering them a fair opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through sports training and competition.
To follow the athletes on their journey, visit Upper West Tennessee – Area 7 Special Olympics on Facebook.
Clinton Smith is the Area Director for the Upper West Region Special Olympics Tennessee.