Special Olympics bring people together, change perspectives
Danville Register & Bee - 10/4/2017
Most late Tuesday mornings, the Grant Center gym at Averett's North Campus is fairly sleepy.
There may be a basketball player getting up a few shots during the offseason or another athlete just passing through, but its mostly just dusty lights and stacked bleachers.
Not this Tuesday.
The school hosted more than 100 Special Olympics athletes from Danville City Schools, Halifax County schools and other surrounding counties for a special event, showcasing a variety of sports during the three-hour Special Olympics Fall Fun Day.
"In our region, there isn't too much offered for Special Olympics athletes," Averett soccer head coach Philip Wilson said. "We've been able to expose 120 Special Olympics athletes to 14 different sports today. For me, that's the key thing, the education."
More than 200 Averett student-athletes and staff members also volunteered for the event, teaching the kids - from elementary to high school-aged students - sports many of them had not been exposed to before. Wrestling was a crowd favorite.
"The purpose of today is to be able to have a partnership with the community, to bring awareness to the community," Special Olympics of Virginia Piedmont Regional Director Lisa Wimbush said. "And what better way than to go to a university?"
Many Special Olympics events are done on a much smaller scale with fewer athletes and volunteers, so a widespread event like has a two-pronged effect - it gives the athletes a chance to interact with more of their peers than normal and also gives many first-time volunteers a perspective-changing jolt.
"In this day and age, when people are extremely stressed, burnt out and focusing on the wrong things, I think today is an example of what matters," Wimbush said. "We get overwhelmed with all the other things in life sometimes, but this is what matters. I'm a huge advocate of having any doors that can be opened to Special Olympics because a lot of people come to help people with intellectual disabilities, but they really leave with their life changed."
One of the most common occurrences - many new volunteers or observers have their misconceptions of intellectual disabilities shattered.
"That's another thing that a lot of people think - it's here to just play and it's a baby-sitting thing," Wimbush said. "No. All our athletes are athletes and they compete. They work hard and train like any athlete. ? A lot of it is backdoor or soft discrimination. Even with the volunteers sometimes, they assume the athletes may not be good. They may not be able to compete. That's soft discrimination because you're underestimating them. Some of them can outrun you. Some of them can outplay you. Some of our athletes can dunk."
For Averett soccer player Cassidy Feldt, the solution for making sure people with intellectual disabilities are not seen any differently than people without is simple.
"You just need to treat them like they're normal kids because if you treat them like they're special, they don't feel like they fit in," Feldt said.
And while Tuesday's event isn't a weekly thing, there are ways people in the Dan River Region can get involved with Special Olympics of Virginia. The organization's easily navigated website is found at specialolympicsva.org and there are many options to either get involved or donate.