Participation in Special Olympics in Jackson County has dwindled over the years.
A new county coordinator and county management team hope to bring the spark back to the not-for-profit organization, which provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The group met for the first time Sunday and announced plans for a callout meeting to gather interested athletes and volunteers to let them know all about Special Olympics and what can be offered locally.
The date and location for the callout meeting still are being worked out, but it’s expected to be sometime in January.
County coordinator Shellie McCulley and the county management team plan to meet Jan. 7 to work out the details of the callout meeting. They hope to have an idea of the sports that will be offered so that can be shared with athletes and volunteers.
At the callout meeting, athletes will have a chance to try out some of the sports or activities, and volunteers can learn how they could help with coaching and events.
Depending on how many people attend the first meeting, a second callout meeting could be scheduled.
Francie Smith, south regional manager of Special Olympics Indiana, said the goal is to capture as many children and adults in the community.
“This could be their only social activity or opportunity to get out and be a part of the community is coming to Special Olympics,” she said. “Those relationships that they build are for a lifetime, really. It’s not just getting to go do sports. Part of it is social, too.”
McCulley said the first sport she would like to offer in Jackson County is a year-round unified fitness club. That would involve volunteers and athletes getting together once a week to walk.
Smith said fitness bands would be provided so everyone’s activity can be tracked, and they would receive incentives for reaching certain marks. The administrator of the fitness club would help set up the athletes’ bands if needed.
“Giving people a reason to get out and move is always nice,” Smith said.
Along with walking once a week, Smith said the meetings also could teach nutrition and healthy life choices by bringing in guests to talk about things such as the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and balanced meals. Ideas also could be shared for activities the athletes could do the rest of the week to increase their activity level.
The fitness club could lead into the next sport, possibly track and field where the athletes could participate in a competition in the spring. Events, which are based on ability, include softball throw, tennis ball throw, shot put, mini javelin, running and walking. There also are events for those who use wheelchairs.
Smith said athletes have to have eight practices in to be eligible to compete in track and field competitions. The area competition is at a different location each year, while the summer games are in Terre Haute.
Swimming is another spring sport option.
McCulley said she has gone through Special Olympics Indiana’s program information guide and highlighted the different sports she would like to see for Jackson County to give athletes options.
“It’s good to have a plan to possibly have a sport every season,” Smith said.
To keep it free for athletes to participate in Special Olympics, the county management team will conduct fundraisers throughout the year with proceeds paying entry fees and other expenses associated with competitions.
Special Olympics Indiana’s largest fundraiser is the Polar Plunge. This year, that event is Feb. 10 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Feb. 17 at Deam Lake in Borden and March 3 at Eagle Creek in Indianapolis.
Individuals or teams would raise money to split between the local and state Special Olympics groups. People would let the county event coordinator know beforehand that they are taking the plunge on behalf of Special Olympics Indiana-Jackson County.
Each person has to raise a “bare minimum” of $75 to be able to jump in the water and receive a T-shirt.
Anyone who doesn’t want to get wet can be a virtual plunger by collecting online donations.
Once the county management team selects a coordinator for the fundraiser, it will be advertised to let people know how to sign up and start collecting money.
“People raise thousands of dollars doing this,” Smith said.
Besides fundraisers, Smith said the county management team can apply for grants or set up a fund through the Community Foundation of Jackson County to help cover expenses for athletes.
The team also hopes to set up a booth at community events and festivals to spread the word about Special Olympics.
For information about Special Olympics Indiana-Jackson County, contact county coordinator Shellie McCulley by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about Special Olympics Indiana, visit soindiana.org.