Special Olympics' Fall Games edition comes to Harlem, Poplar Grove
Rockford Register Star - 10/19/2018
Oct. 19--There are more than 640 Special Olympics athletes set to come to the area this weekend and compete in the Fall Games, with standouts in equestrian and volleyball getting ready to steal the spotlight.
On Saturday and Sunday the Special Olympics Illinois athletes and the 40 Unified Partners will take part in two sports in the Fall Games, one of nine state sports competitions in Illinois. Athletes will compete in either equestrian, located at Bergmann Center in Poplar Grove or volleyball, located at Harlem High School in Machesney Park.
"It's just such a fantastic experience, and that's for everybody," said Debbie Kelly, the Rockford-area director for Special Olympics. "Not just for the athletes, but the parents, the volunteers, the spectators -- it's such a neat feeling to watch what goes on here."
It will begin with preliminary action in both volleyball and equestrian on Saturday, and there will be opening ceremonies at Harlem in the main gym at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. More of the divisions will compete on Sunday as well.
The Bravehearts adaptive riding program out of Poplar Grove has 20 riders entered into one of the several divisions of the equestrian competition, the most out of any of the nine barns competing. Vicki Suchoski of Rockton is one of the former multiple gold medal winners from the Bravehearts who will be shooting for more this weekend.
"We have a good mix of new competitors and returning athletes, and the ones who are returning and have been through this before, they're pretty competitive, and ready to go," said Bravehearts' coordinator Jen Hazzlewood said. "But the best thing about the Special Olympics is that they're all just happy to be there, and they're all out there having fun."
Roscoe's Kevin Bell and Machesney Park'sEd Downey are two more former gold medal winners riding for the Bravehearts.
The Rockford SO Team comes to the Fall Games with three teams, two of which come into the Fall Games hot off a regional-championship run. Volleyball is contested in three divisions: modified, traditional and unified. Unified includes one abled-body player for every disabled competitor.
Rockford head coach Anne Vestal, who also runs the Rockford SO program, is anxious to see what her teams have.
"They've worked so hard, and they've come to play so well together, we're really looking forward to this one," Vestal said. "And just to watch them build friendships, learn some new skills, and have a good time, it's more than worth all that hard work."
Jay Taft: 815-987-1384; email@example.com; @JayTaft
Special Olympics' Fall Games
Opening Ceremonies: 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the Harlem main gym
Volleyball (at Harlem): 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
Equestrian (at Bergmann Center, Poplar Grove): 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
What is Special Olympics?
Special Olympics Illinois is a nonprofit organization offering year-round training and competition in 18 sports for more than 23,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and nearly 20,000 young athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics programs enhance physical fitness, motor skills, self-confidence, social skills and encourage family and community support. If you are interested in learning more about Special Olympics Illinois, volunteering or providing financial support to help make Special Olympics programs possible, contact your local Special Olympics agency, call 800-394-0562 or visit at soill.org.
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