About 40 athletes are anticipated to attend and they’ll be competing in Bocce Ball. Athletes have been practicing with a certified trainer for the last eight weeks and will go head-to-head during Thursday’s games.
The athletes will also participate in some soccer training, which Melissa Hall, member of the Special Olympics planning committee, hopes will be a competitive sport during the games next year.
Also this week, the Special Olympics are hosting a Bowling Social at Strikers, Saturday from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. to get athletes comfortable with the sport, so that it too can be a competitive sport for the Special Olympics.
“I’m hopeful it will continue to grow,” said Cathy Hoggard, the coordinator for Special Olympics in Richmond County, about the entire program. “We have more athletes participating and we’re offering additional events. We’ve been quite busy.”
Most people are familiar with the Special Olympics’ track and field games which are held in the spring and draw a larger crowd and more athletes. But the planning committee is trying to incorporate more activities in order to keep the athletes active year-round, while also opening up the events to athletes with greater physical disabilities.
Hoggard said the committee picks the sports based on what’s suitable in the county.
“We look at what could involve more athletes,” she explained. “There are about 20 sports offered in Special Olympics and we kind of looked at things we could manage physically in our area and what might be of interest to more people.”
For example, Bocce was chosen this year because Hoggard and others on the planning committee noticed it becoming more popular. Also, it’s a sport that can be played in various locations, year-round.
Hoggard said the bowling, which they’re also hoping will be a success, is a good choice because it’s a year-round sport that will make room for athletes with more physical disabilities.
Hoggard, who was awarded coordinator of the year in May, said she’s pleased to see how Special Olympics has grown in Richmond County.
“It’s quite overwhelming sometimes,” she said. “When I took this on four years ago this spring, there hadn’t been any Special Olympics activities in the county in several years.”
Hoggard said it bothered her that there were no Special Olympics activities in the county because of all the benefits she’d seen from the games in other communities she’d been in.
“It’s such a positive experience for the athletes and their families and the community,” Hoggard said.
Hoggard said all of her volunteers are extremely committed to building the presence of Special Olympics in the community, but that it’s a lot of work, especially when almost all of them also have full-time jobs.
But Hoggard said it’s important for the committee to keep forging ahead and increasing the activities available because of the tremendous benefits for these athletes. Hoggard said it benefits the athlete’s self-esteem, improves their social lives, their physical well-being and helps families make connections in the community.
Hoggard says there are about 150 athletes in the area now who participate in Special Olympics.
“We’re excited,” she said.
Hoggard hopes that eventually they’ll have athletes competing in horseback riding, cheerleading and other sports.
And for those familiar with the organization who want to take part in the feel-good spirit of the Special Olympics, Hall said the organization is always looking for volunteers and people are encouraged to come out and just cheer on the athletes.
“Watching is sometimes as exciting as participating,” Hall said.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Hoggard at (910) 895-5946.
n Staff writer Eren Tataragasi can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 19 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.