As Special Olympics turns 50, local coaches look back
The Hermiston Herald - 6/13/2018
In its early years, the local Special Olympics program was all DIY.
“We decided that we could do a track meet here in Hermiston,” said Mary Bousquet. “It was just a lot of people saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ People were always willing to support it.”
Although not initially affiliated with the Oregon program, Bousquet and Doris Boatright rallied the effort during the 1982-83 school year. In the spring of 1983, more than 100 students from surrounding towns participated as Hermiston hosted its first Special Olympics track meet. They ordered generic ribbons from a catalog to award athletes, local students wore purple “Watch Hermiston Grow” T-shirts and Spike Piersol dressed up in an A & W bear suit for the event.
Special Olympics was founded 50 years ago by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who strived to create opportunities for people like her sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The idea grew from a summer day camp held in Shriver’s backyard. The first International Olympic Games were held in 1968 in Chicago, and state chapters had been forming in the years that followed.
Now in their 70s, Bousquet and Boatright, Hermiston High School class of 1958 graduates, are just as enthusiastic about what is now Hermiston/Pendleton Special Olympics Local Program #510.
Bousquet learned about the Special Olympics program as a first-year special education teacher in the Hermiston School District. In May 1979, she was told that students would be traveling to Eastern Oregon University to participate in a track meet. In preparation, Bousquet and others worked with students to practice track and field events.
The following year, she recruited Boatright as an assistant in the special education program. Along with her classroom duties, Boatright got involved with Special Olympics.
Evidently, Bousquet said, they ruffled some feathers with Oregon’s Special Olympics program by organizing their own events and fundraising efforts. In the spring of 1984, an official with the state office approached her in the school parking lot.
“I told him we had been trying to get ahold of Oregon Special Olympics. So, we break the law and they show up,” Bousquet said with a chuckle.
Bousquet said he explained that any money raised by local Special Olympics programs needed to be deposited into the state fund. As a sanctioned program, the state office began providing official ribbons and other supports.
Nearly 40 years later, the program continues to grow — offering year-round sports training and competitions at no charge for athletes. More than 125 athletes participate each year — some in multiple sports — ranging from 97 in athletics (track and field) to 15 in both golf and bocce. Other current sports include basketball, powerlifting and bowling. In the fall, they will launch an aquatics program.
“I think it’s wonderful because a lot of these athletes would never get the opportunity to participate in regular sports,” Boatright said. “I think sports are wonderful for kids and adults. And that’s why I’m still doing Special Olympics because I love it.”
Although Bousquet bowed out from coaching a few years ago, she still supports the program. In addition to the competitions and the health benefits of participation, she said the social aspect is just as important — especially for adult athletes who don’t have school activities to connect with others.
“It isn’t just sports ... it’s to participate and have fun and to be able to socialize,” Bousquet said. “We used to go to state and the dance was the most important thing.”
For information about participating or volunteering, call local program coordinator Angela Scheider at 541-314-0166.