Special Olympians sharpen skills for annual event

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE — Coach Steven Fletcher, right, a Special Olympics volunteer, was in charge of a softball throw practice held earlier this week at the School of Bright Promise. - Jody Wisbith

STEUBENVILLE — Softballs and bocce balls were in motion earlier this week outside the Jefferson County School of Bright Promise, as young adults there are sharpening their skills for the upcoming 42nd-annual Special Olympics.

The Ohio Area 9 Special Olympics qualifier will be held beginning at 10 a.m. on May 6 at Harding Stadium, and according to Jane Bodo, Area 9 coordinator and the county’s local coordinator for the Special Olympics, the local competitors have been practicing since March.

Bodo explained the approximately 60 Jefferson County All-Star athletes from Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities will compete in bocce ball and track and field events. Track and field events include 50-, 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter races, standing and running long jump, shot put and softball throw.

“There’s also the mini-javelin event, wheelchair races and walking races, as well as running,” she said.

“We expect more than 200 athletes from nine programs to participate in the May 6 events, and we will have over 100 volunteers and chaperones to assist,” said Heather Jameyson-Henry, media relations, Area 9 Special Olympics committee.

Jameyson-Henry noted participating programs will include Belmont County Developmental Disabilities; Muskingum County Developmental Disabilities; Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities; Holmes County Developmental Disabilities; Homes Public; Harrison County Developmental Disabilities; Tuscarawas County Developmental Disabilities; Guernsey County Developmental Disabilities; Carroll County Developmental Disabilities; and Stepping Stone of Tuscarawas County.

Bodo noted she and some of the athletes are even looking beyond the May 6 qualifier event, as the Ohio Special Olympics Summer Games are slated for June 23-25 in Columbus.

“The athletes must compete at a qualifier in order to compete at the Ohio Special Olympics Summer Games,” she said, adding there are some local competitors who go on to the Columbus events each year.

Admission to the local event is free, and Bodo said the school’s coaches always are looking for more volunteers to help during the qualifier.

“Anyone wanting to volunteer with our athletes can be at the stadium at 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. that morning to register,” she said.

“We would like to fill the stands this year and show these special athletes the same kind of support we give to our high school sports programs here in the Ohio Valley. Teamwork and competitive spirit are alive and well in Special Olympics. Attendance costs nothing but pays big emotional dividends,” Jameyson-Henry said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Kitty Ferguson or Denise Kelly at (740) 264-7176.

The local organizers added the event is 100 percent locally funded, so anyone wanting to make a contribution can send it to: JCAC Olympics, 935 Banfield Ave., Toronto, OH 43964.

“It takes a lot of work and volunteers to pull this off. It’s a great showcase of what the athletes can do,” Bodo said of the Ohio Area 9 Special Olympics.