Special Teams Talent: The Special Olympics Program of Rhode Island

The Special Olympics is a sports program for people with intellectual disabilities of varying degrees. It helps develop communication skills, as well as promotes partnersincreased coordination skills and a sense of fellowship for all its participants. The program’s main event in Rhode Island, the State Summer games, is held in June but that is not its only program throughout the calendar year. Every six weeks, Special Olympics runs numerous team sports programs, including volleyball, softball, soccer, and basketball. Most sports are unified, where Special Olympics athletes play together on a team with volunteer partners, but some sports are also traditionally run, where the teams are made up of just the athletes themselves, with volunteers as non-playing coaches.

Throughout the year, the Special Olympics program hosts several smaller events similar to the main summer event, to include other seasonal sports. For team sports,bocce there are usually individual tournaments held at the end of each six week cycle, but semi-annually, there are often organized events for multiple sports. This November, Special Olympics RI held a fall festival including three sports: Bocce, which involves one athlete and one partner; doubles tennis, with one athlete and one partner per team; and flag football, with 2 footballpartners and 3 athletes on the field at a time per team. The Special Olympics fall festival was hosted at Bryant University by Bryant U softball team. Taylor Bell, a Bryant softball player and Assistant Director for the 2013 Northern Rhode Island Spring Games, spearheaded this effort and oversaw the whole event, but she stresses that this was not the effort of just one or a few people: “Each member on the team holds a position and is responsible for completing all of the tasks involving that position prior to the day of games”  This is the second Fall Festival held at Bryant, and after a second successful year, the team hopes to continue the tradition. “We take great pride in making this project our own and making it the best that it can be for the athletes,” says Bell, who has an extensive history with the program and plans to continue her work as the Director for the 2014 games.

Each Special Olympics team event involves organized teams from different non-profit organizations around the state that function to assist and support clients with physical and intellectual disabilities, such as the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center in Warwick, RI. Individual athletes unassociated with a particular organization are also encouraged to participate in the single person events, specifically during the Summer Games, held the first week of June each year. Special Olympics Rhode Island also holds many fundraising events each year, most recently the Penguin Plunge held on New Year’s Day at Roger Wheeler State Beach.

The RI State Winter Games are held one month from now on February 9, 2013 at Yawgoo Valley Ski Resort in Exeter. Special Olympics RI is currently accepting teamvolunteers for the RI State Summer Games, held on May 31, June 1st and June 2nd, 2013 at the University of Rhode Island. For any volunteer information for the Summer Games or any other SORI event, please contact Louise Miller at louise@specialolympicsri.org.

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