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Sunday, July 14, 2019

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Special Olympics Louisiana offers more than just sports

Special Olympics Louisiana offers more than just sports

It started the year before we ever set foot on the moon – 1968. President Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was actually the founder of this global organization that provides opportunities to more than 4 million athletes in more than 170 countries. Louisiana sent 11 athletes from Belle Chasse High School to compete that very first year. And, we haven’t slowed down since!

Special Olympics Louisiana hosts approximately 100 competitions annually. Currently, there are 13,847 children and adult athletes with intellectual disabilities competing at local or area meets first where they then have the opportunity to advance to the state, national and World games.

There are four or so statewide events held throughout various Louisiana cities annually. We’ve come a long way since our first showing in Chicago with 11 athletes at that very first Special Olympics held in 1968.

Athletes in Louisiana have the opportunity to compete and qualify in 17 various Olympic-type sports ranging from aquatics, basketball, cycling, soccer, golf, power lifting, tennis and equestrian.
Nationally, Special Olympics offer more than 32 different sports.

Why do we only have 17 out of 32? Well, Louisiana will never have a hockey, ice skating or downhill skiing team competing in the Special Olympics – our climate just doesn’t allow for it!

As a statewide not-for-profit 501c3 organization, the group relies upon corporate and individual donations, sponsors, civic groups, foundation grants and special events to keep the program funded. There is never a cost for the athlete to participate in Special Olympics. It costs Special Olympics Louisiana approximately $150 per athlete, which the organization generously covers. This year alone, the self-sufficient group raised $2.8 million.

It’s more than just sports. Special Olympics allows athletes the opportunity to not only develop physical fitness goals, but to demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with other Special Olympic Athletes, their families and the community. It’s an important aspect of Special Olympics – so much so, that it’s their mission.

Training and sporting programs aren’t all they do year round. Special Olympics Louisiana offers education, leadership, health and family programs throughout the year. Sadly, Louisiana has some 124,917 citizens with intellectual disabilities who may qualify but do not participate in any of the programs offered by the organization.
Anyone with some degree of intellectual disability participating will find programs suited for their ability and athletic interest. Participants compete against athletes of similar skills, gender, age and ability. Special Olympics has been clear throughout the decades with their consistent message: People with intellectual disabilities can – and will – succeed when given the chance. The organization’s vision mirrors this sentiment: To transform communities by inspiring people throughout Louisiana to open their minds, accept and include people with intellectual disabilities and thereby anyone who is perceived as different.

Special Olympics Louisiana provides year-round sports training and athletic competition, made possible through their dedicated and generous volunteers, nearly 15,000 of them!

To accomplish this monumental task, Special Olympics Louisiana is divided into 13 area programs. Locally, our area is appropriately named Bayouland Area, which encompasses Assumption, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John and Terrebonne parishes. We have a Bayouland Area Management Team which includes an Area Leader, Sports Training Coordinator and Medical Coordinator. Three parishes, Terrebonne, St. John and St. Charles, have a parish leader. Lafourche does not…until now.

The Bayouland Area has developed a Lafourche Parish Team. Anyone interested in participating – athlete, parent, supporter, volunteer or committee member – should attend an informational meeting at the Cut Off Youth Center this Thursday, August 7th at 6 p.m.

Meagan Danos, assistant coach of the COYC Hurricanes, and Melisa Adams are the organizers behind the event.

“Our goal is to find people in the community to help us build a working committee for the Lafourche Parish Special Olympics organization,” says Danos. “We need committee members, coaches and volunteers to join our team,” she added.

“Special Olympics is more than an athletic event. It’s also a social world where people with intellectual disabilities needs,” says Danos. “This opportunity gives participants the ability to learn new sports skills while improving individual sports performance while participating in individual and team sports. Besides,” she added, “participants build lasting friendships and have fun.”

“My son started participating 3 years ago. Like others he had to participate in neighboring parishes. The option for others to have to drive a distance to participate, discouraged many to join Special Olympics,” said Melisa Adams.