For the first time in several years, athletes at Russellville High School are preparing to begin training for Special Olympics competition.
“They’re really excited about it,” said Paige Winders, the RHS exceptional education teacher who founded the new Special Olympics team and will serve as its coach. “We’ve talked about it some. Even one of the students now will start running, getting prepared” for the competition in gym class.
The team will start formal softball throw and 50-yard dash training in March. They plan to compete in the regional tournament in Warren County in April, and hope to go on to the state tournament in Richmond on May 31 through June 2.
“It will be good for them,” Winders’ said of why she wanted to form a team for her students. “It’s good for them to learn things other than academics — to learn leisure activity, things that will benefit them past high school.”
While focusing on training physically for competition, Winders will also work with the students on teamwork, encouragement and taking turns.
Linda Shelton, director of special education for Russellville Independent Schools, is thrilled Winders’ has brought Special Olympics back to RHS.
“There are so many (positives) with Special Olympics – the pride, the socialization… and every child getting recognized for being a winner,” she said.
The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in 1968 under the direction of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who pioneered the idea of day camps featuring sports and other activities for people with disabilities, according to the Special Olympics website. About 1,000 athletes from the U.S. and Canada entered the first event.
During the Special Olympics World Games in Athens two years ago, “nearly 7,000 athletes from 170 countries” took part.
The next Special Olympics World Games will be in the Los Angeles in 2015. It will be the first time the event has been in the U.S. in 16 years, according to the Special Olympics website.
For more information about Special Olympics, visit www.specialolympics.org.