Hundreds of kids gathered at Premier Lanes on Friday for Area IV Special Olympics Bowl. Special Olympics (SO) is a student-run organization partnered with the University of Mississippi. It provides a genial atmosphere for children and adults with intellectual disabilities to exhibit courage, strength and physical fitness on a sports ground. It offers year-round athletic training and a range of Olympic-type sporting contests.
Felisa Bonner, Area 4 director of Special Olympics Mississippi, said she was pleased with the event’s turnout.
“We had over 320 kids sign up for the bowling,” Bonner said. “They had a great time, and we are looking forward to SO Area Skating.”
Terry Shinall, director of sports programs for Special Olympics Mississippi, was also satisfied with the success of the morning’s events.
“From the outside looking in, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and having a great time,” Shinall said. “I could only be there for 30 minutes, but from my perspective, it was a huge success.”
Teachers from the university, athletes from six surrounding counties and 150 volunteers from the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management and Oxford ROTC program were in attendance to help the event flow smoothly.
Devante Yates, an undergraduate at Ole Miss and native of West Point, participated in the festivities and intends to work closely with the Special Olympics College in Oxford for the 2017 fall semester, including working in promotional efforts.
“I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the program,” Yates said. “Special Olympics gives athletes the opportunity to change the world’s view on their perception of people with intellectual disabilities. This is my second year volunteering with the Special Olympics but my first year helping coordinate the event. It has been nothing short of amazing. You feel such love and joy when you look around and see how much fun everyone is having.”
Bonner said events like Special Olympics are an important part of the community and something from which many people could benefit.
“Unified sports brings unity among the community, sharing knowledge with college and high school students,” Bonner said.
“I am so excited about Special Olympics this year,” Bonner says. “We have added 90 new athletes from Grenada School District. Unified Flag Football practice is underway, and the Special Olympics College is busy preparing for the national games in Seattle, Washington, in 2018.”
The Unified Flag Football team is composed of Special Olympics athletes and Ole Miss students. The team kicked off practice Sept. 14, and it has practice games beginning next Thursday, Sept. 21. Its first regular season game is set for next Thursday. Both games will start at 7 p.m. Playoffs are Oct. 19, and the team will be hosting the fourth annual Special Olympics Egg Bowl in November.
Joshua Obregon, intramural supervisor at Ole Miss Campus Recreation, shared what she saw as the focal point of these Unified Events.
“It is a way for traditional students and community members to build relationships with special needs individuals through sport from our assigned area in Mississippi,” Obregon said.
Michael Dupper, the university event director and assistant professor of health, exercise science and recreation management on campus, helped coordinate the games and motivate students to work with these special athletes. He is in his 39th year of working with Mississippi Special Olympics.
“I look at my participation as not only a service to all involved but a chance to assist the volunteers with becoming aware of the importance of serving others,” Dupper said. “These games provide the combination of athletic endeavors and social interaction for not only the athletes but for the Ole Miss students and other volunteers who so selflessly give their time and empathy for the athletes, teachers and coaches who attend these events.”
The Special Olympics’ next scheduled event will be roller-skating at Skatetasia Skating Center in Sardis on Nov. 2.