This fall, as leaves changed colors and fell to the ground, athletes across the state were practicing and competing in several sports. Local programs organized sports leagues and competitions for not only their own athletes, but for athletes from neighboring counties, as well.
In October, Special Olympics Buncombe County invited neighboring programs to compete in their second annual Bocce Bonanza. Athletes from Cleveland, Mitchell, Watauga and Henderson counties took them up on the offer.
Throughout the competition, athletes enjoyed meeting those from other counties and making new friends. By the end of the event, it was clear that the spirit of camaraderie was in the air.
“I think it is safe to say athletes from all counties made new friends that day,” says local program co-coordinator Karla Funari.
Crowds of cheering family, friends and fans from all five counties made the event festive and exciting. Athletes and supporters have already begun talking about the 3rd annual Bocce Bonanza next year!
Not far away in Gaston County, athletes showed their skills in a fall soccer league. Much like Buncombe County’s Bocce Bonanza, athletes in the soccer league bonded with their opponents from Catawba and Cabarrus counties and only got closer as the games went on.
“They had the opportunity to play against the other counties several times,” explained Gaston County local coordinator, Ashley Anderson. “This gave them the chance to get to know the other athletes from the other counties and when they saw the athletes at the state level competition, they all knew one another and they rooted for each other.”
Athletes from the three counties also took the games as a learning opportunity. With every practice and game, the teams took away new skills and improved their performance. In each game, athletes were able to practice offense and defense against teams in situations similar to what they may encounter at other competitions. If they lost, “they never walked away from the field feeling defeated,” Anderson says. “They knew they had made the most of the game and had a fun experience.”
Across the state, local programs are taking part in local events, such as these. With a growing number of local events, athletes are able to get involved in a greater capacity than ever before. Whether it is a scrimmage or a local program joining with neighboring programs, these local events expand opportunities for the whole community. Any local event can show the power of inclusion and encourage community members to join the Special Olympics movement.
Most importantly, local events give athletes the chance to continue their athletic training. The true strength of Special Olympics is the week-to-week training that the athletes experience and what comes from it—making friends, staying active, learning new skills and experiencing fitness. With each local event, the strength of Special Olympics grows and allows more athletes to feel the joy of sports.
To organize a local event in your area, contact your local program coordinator.