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If you are involved in the Special Olympics, no matter whether you are at Wal-Mart stocking up on snacks, stopped at Wendy's grabbing a meal, or at Busy Beaver picking up a light bulb--people call you "Coach." You can earn the honor of that title without being the next Coach Bobby Knight by volunteering with the Washington County Special Olympics basketball program. The Special Olympics is clearly not a one-time event and provides opportunities for students to volunteer to coach at practices and local competitions while working with physically or mentally challenged athletes sharing the love of the game.
The practices are very similar to any typical high school basketball team. Beginning with warm-up laps and stretching, athletes at the practice then progress to ball handling, defense, and various shooting exercises. Of course, the favorite part of practice for athletes and coaches alike is the scrimmage that takes place for the last half hour. Coaches team up to challenge the athletes, while those not involved cheer their fellow teammates to victory.
The players are divided by skill into groups. Severely challenged athletes compete at individual skills: dribbling, passing and shooting. Volunteering with the skills athletes requires a lot of patience but minimal sports skills so is a perfect fit for those who want to coach and keep from sweating during practice. However, most of the athletes are on either 3 v 3 teams or 5 v 5 teams. If a volunteer attends a coach's certification offered at a variety of locations throughout the year, it is possible to be a head coach of one of these teams. The highest functioning team-the Washington Wizards-even learns offensive and inbounding plays designed by the coaches.
There are mutliple chances for the athletes to compete throughout the season as their successes are finally awarded with medals at regional competitions. Traveling on school buses as a collective squad of athletes, coaches, and volunteers, the team competes in up to six tournaments each spring. Yearly competitions held in areas such as Pittsburgh, Clarion, Lawrence County, and Washington County bring teams from all across the state to represent their Special Olympics counties.
At the annual W&J College competition, students can volunteer to plan the tournament; they can organize the tournament staff, garner donations, set-up the gym or design the t-shirts. The highlight of the basketball season is the final competition held annually at Penn State University when coaches and players alike spend a long weekend at the State Competition. As you can see, volunteers are both valued and needed to keep a program like the Special Olympics basketball team winning gold medals!
The Meaning Behind the Logo: Andrew's Spirit
The Special Olympics logo was designed with a specific meaning. The logo features three sets of arms: down, straight, and up. The down arms represent the "downtrodden" as a reminder of the views of the past that people with disabilities were not able to try new things or be capable of living a normal life. The straight arms refer to the "equal" time when athletes prove they are capable to attempt tasks and compete in sports. The upward arms represent the "joy" of athletes who are reaching goals and developing new skills through big and little victories that become meaningful life victories.
Pennsylvania's Special Olympics honors those involved who have exemplified the true spirit of the games exemplified by this logo. Our Washington County Special Olympics had its own super athlete, Andrew Mayer, who won the Sheetz Family Award of Excellence at the 2006 Summer Games at Penn State University. This award was for the athlete who exhibited sportsmanship, courage, dedication, and a positive attitude on and off the field of play, but may not have received any medals. It was Andy's 10th year at the Penn State Summer games. This year was different because he was there as a volunteer instead of a coach since the team was unable to travel to states. Andy is always willing to help out his fellow athletes and the committee was surprised by his commitment and maturity. Andrew said, "It was way better than winning a medal. It was like I was holding a Super Bowl trophy up like a pro player!"
Based on interview conducted April 12, 2007 with Coach Eric Sibenac '08
Recruited out of high school by several Division III colleges to play football, I decided on W&J because of its reputable academic program and its perennial powerhouse football team. After my freshman year, I realized that there was more to college than just playing a sport and attending classes. I joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and a community service group, G.I.V.E., through which I became involved in Habitat for Humanity, Holiday for Humanity and the Special Olympics. Better than good grades and even victories, volunteering has been more rewarding, particularly with the Special Olympics.
One of my fraternity members, Chris Edwards, mentioned that if I helped out with the local Special Olympics basketball team, the hours would count toward achieving a spot on the Habitat for Humanity spring break trip for the group G.I.V.E. I really expected the athletes to be more handicapped and while a few work simply on dribbling, with the majority, it really is like playing basketball with normal kids--some swish threes consistently and others can even dunk!
As I plan on including coaching in my career goals, even if it is just for my kids' teams, working with the Special Olympics has taught me valuable lessons. After attending a training clinic,I became a certified head coach of a 3 v 3 team. One of my athletes was super hyper and we had trouble keeping him focused and now by the end of the season he is starting to listen. I realized I've reached him and I can't describe that feeling of success. Another time, I was out with my dad when I ran into an athlete who hollered, "Hey Coach." My dad looked at me with surprise and I explained that I was working with the Special Olympics. Seeing my dad's look and pride in my doing good things reminded me of the impact I was having on the athletes.
Every week, I am excited to go to practice or get on a bus to head to a tournament. In my opinion, students should volunteer with the Special Olympics for three reasons: they like to help others, they enjoy sports, or they want to get away from school and the stress for a little bit. Through volunteers, the world would be a better place but it takes people willing to do something. Everyone complains. I say, "Go out and do something about it--make a difference yourself."
Once You've Laced Up Your Shoes...
- Join G.I.V.E. at the Students Activities Fair or contact Bill Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit the Office of Volunteer Services
- For future seasons contact Special Olympics Washington County Officer, Cherie Mazutis at email@example.com to find out practice times and locations
http://www.specialolympics.org The Main Page
http://www.sopawc.org The Washington County Page
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