Dozens of athletes bring their best to Dare County Special Olympics
Published 8:42 am Sunday, October 30, 2022
By Judy Stiles
Wednesday mornings, the grassy area of the Dare County Thomas A. Baum Senior Center is reserved for Special Olympics bocce training. It is high fives and hugs when the athletes arrive but once the training begins, it is “game on” for the athletes.
The bocce training is just one part of Dare County’s Special Olympics program. Overall, nearly 130 athletes participate in the Special Olympics program hosted by the Dare County Parks and Recreation Department.
Adults and young people from around Dare County and Currituck can participate in any Dare County Special Olympics event free of charge. Anyone with an intellectual disability and who is 8 years or older is invited to participate in the program. The events offer opportunities to work on improving physical and social skills. On school days, Dare County Public Schools join the Parks and Recreation Department and bring student athletes for many of the organized physical activities.
Cheerleading is going until Tuesday, Nov. 29. Bocce will end with a bocce tournament on Wednesday, Nov. 2. The 2022 Equestrian Invitational took place on Saturday, Sept. 25. The event required the 25 athletes to show either their horseback riding or showmanship skills such as leading through obstacles, backing the horse up and stopping the horse on the correct side for the judge to approach.
The winter season events begin the first week in January and will include cheerleading, bowling, track, swimming and basketball. All athletes have the opportunity to participate in the Dare County end-of-season tournaments and earn a medal. Athletes who meet requirements such as attending practice and demonstrating skills may earn the chance to compete at the state level.
Sandy Pace, director of the Virginia S. Tillett Community Center, and Dare County Parks and Recreation fitness coordinator Jackie Pikulski Frappier co-coordinate the Dare County Special Olympics. Pace said she has always had a heart for assisting people with lesser advantages. She was guardian for her now-deceased brother Petey, helped other community members with disabilities and then became involved with Special Olympics.
“I learn so much from the athletes,” said Pace. “The effort they put in, the time they put in and the joy on their face when they succeed makes my whole year.”
Pace continued, “The sports programs provide life skills such as taking turns, learning how to lose, learning how to win. They (the athletes) are super competitive and they have to learn how to lose and win with grace.”
The Dare County Special Olympics exemplifies the national Special Olympics mission to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics give them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
Pace outlined that part of her reward is about watching the athletes go from not believing they can do it to achieving their goals. Success in the program is about practice, hard work and believing in one’s self to go from zero confidence to being able to do it.
Expecting people to work rather than make it easy for them is how Pace describes the program. “Let people show what they are capable of and give them opportunities to do what they are capable of,” said Pace.
The group raises funds and is supported by community partners such as Publix, the Fraternal Order of Eagles # 4506, Knights of Columbus, the Outer Banks Community Foundation and Jersey Mike’s. These and more community supporters make it possible for the athletes to participate in the local games and the state competition without cost.
In addition to the sporting events, individuals with disabilities can join social activities. The next social event is the Boo Bash, which is a costumed Halloween celebration that takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28 at the Virginia S. Tillett Community Center located at 950 Marshall C. Collins Drive in Manteo. Other social events include summer picnics and the Bunny Hop, which is the spring dance.
Volunteers are important to the Dare County games. Volunteers serve in many ways, including service as coaches, group leaders, judges, companions and more.
Kitty Hawk residents James and Sarah Dilley have volunteered with Special Olympics for more than five years. At first, the Dilleys came to watch and support the games after their friends told the couple about the group. Soon the Dilleys began to give hours of their time because of their love for the participants. The Dilleys shared, “The role that we feel the Special Olympic athletes play in our lives is how much they have taught us. Each chance that we have to be with them, our hearts are opened more and we truly experience pure joy. They are so genuine and share honestly what is on their minds and in their hearts. At every event we attend, we watch and learn how they work together and support each other with compassion.
“In short, we volunteered so that we could help and ‘give back,’ but instead we get the gift of love and happiness each time we are with these special friends,” they continued. “Said another way, being with them just makes us happy!”
At the end of bocce training, many of the athletes gathered around the Dilleys to say goodbye with handshakes, high-fives, hugs and big smiles. Wednesday, Oct. 12 was extra special when the group spiritedly sang “Happy Birthday” to Sarah Dilley.
“The Dilleys are wonderful volunteers,” said Pace. “We depend heavily on them and are always looking for new volunteers.”
The North Carolina Special Olympics website states that Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded Special Olympics with a vision that individuals with intellectual disabilities were far more capable in sports and physical activity than many experts believed possible. The first Special Olympics International Games took place in Chicago in 1968. Six athletes from North Carolina participated in the first games.
Special Olympics North Carolina held its first Games in 1970 with 400 participants. North Carolina has one of the largest Special Olympics programs in the world with nearly 40,000 registered athletes who train and compete in year-round programs in 20 different sports.
For more information on participating in Special Olympics, or volunteering, call or email Sandy Pace at 252-475-9270 or email@example.com .
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