Reality Behind the Special Olympics

By Antonette Ciccone
The Minstrel

The Special Olympics organization provides year round sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities. According to the Special Olympics website, the organization gives these children and adults the opportunity to “develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in sharing gifts, skills and friendship with their families.”

Recently, the organization was faced with off putting words from President Barack Obama, claming his bowling skills were “like Special Olympics or something.” In light of this remark, it is becoming more obvious than ever that a stereo-type of people with mental handicaps still exist.

The Special Olympics also works hard to end stereotypes. The organization started a campaign: Spread the Word, to End the Word, to end the use of the word retard; which the organization refers to as the “R-word”. March 31, a national day of awareness, will be a call to Americans to think about their choice of words before they offend or hurt someone.

Thanks to the youth of America, March 31 is getting much attention. The Special Olympics received many pledges and vows at www.r-word.org from students to stop using the word. “So far, across the country, 300 schools have already committed to hosting rallies on March 31,” Special Olympics President and CEO, Brady Lum said to CNN.

While harm is usually unintentional, the use of the word retarded can be very hurtful and detrimental to someone with disabilities. Even here at DeSales University, students are working to end stereotypes and to lend a helping hand to their local Special Olympics community.

On April 4, DeSales University will be hosting the Special Olympics at Salisbury High School for the sixth year in a row. This event is the Eastern Regional Bowling Championship and the last stop for the athletes before the State competition at Penn State.

There are approximately 300 bowlers who will be participating in the event and according to Jamie Gerhart, Director of Social Outreach, their ages and abilities vary. “Bowling is a sport anyone can do, little kids, people in wheelchairs and sixty year old adults, so there is definitely a variation of people,” says Gerhart.

Students have been working diligently to prepare for this event. Every student who donates their time to the Special Olympics Committee goes through a training process where they are taught the proper ways to address and encourage the athletes. “They are athletes first,” says Gerhart, “it is important to remember they are not children, many of them are over 18. They are there to compete just like any other athlete.”

Although President Obama thinks bowling a 39 is Special Olympics material, many participants would have to disagree. According to NBC 10, Donald Haffelfinger, from Delaware County and a Special Olympian, would love to challenge the president to a friendly bowling match. Haffelfinger bowls an average 140 and like many of his fellow competitors, takes pride in his sport.

Special Olympics in Pennsylvania serves over 18,000 adults and children with intellectual handicaps but more than providing these individuals with competition and sports training, Special Olympics transforms communities and inspires people to open their mind and accept those with disabilities.

“DeSales University’s Special Olympics program is a wonderful way for students to participate and help out others,” Says Gerhart, “It is fun and it helps students become more aware of themselves as well as those with disabilities.” The Special Olympics is a great opportunity for students to cheer for very special athletes.<
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