Special Olympics returns to PG
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Sep 16, 2013, 12:45
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Kyle Birchett, 12, plays jump rope at the cookout on Sept. 7.
PRINCE GEORGE — Under the warm sun Sept. 7 at Scott Park, friends and family of special needs children in the county got together to not only enjoy a cookout but to celebrate the return of the Special Olympics program to the county, after an 11 year absence.
Ken Robinson, chairman of the Special Olympics Committee in Prince George, said the Special Olympics program was able to be brought back after a $1,500 grant was awarded by Prince George Promise, an organization that helps with the needs of underserved youth in the community.
The grant, which will also buy T-shirts for the volunteers, equipment for the various sports, such as basketball and baseball, will also help bring together the special needs children in the county to form teams to learn competitive sports, with the first being bowling.
Though Robinson is excited to bring this opportunity to the children in the county, he is saddened that it has been 11 years since it has been active.
“When I was in the county from 1980 to 2002, we had between 20 and 30 athletes participating and they would participate in sports like basketball, bowling, track and field, skiing and volleyball,” Robinson said. “So we had a lot of different venues and a lot of different kids participating, but when I left in 2002, nobody really picked up the ball and the program fell by the wayside.”
Fast forward to present time, 11 years later, and now there is a large interest in the county to bring back the program. William “Bill” Gandel, vice chairman of the Prince George Board of Supervisors, said through a survey, sent out to parents of special needs children, it was found out that parents were frustrated their son or daughter could not participate in the same athletic programs with their peers.
“The Special Olympics would benefit a lot of our students and it certainly would meet this expressed need of parents,” Gandel said. He said that after the idea to bring back the program was presented to the special education committee in the county, it was accepted unanimously.
Tanya Birchett, of Prince George, was at the cookout with her sons, twins Kolby, 12, and Kyle, 12. As she watched them run around the park, she smiled, noting that having the Special Olympics back in the county will give her children new opportunities, ones they might have missed otherwise.
“Kolby is high functioning autism, so he’s able to play and does a lot of travel baseball and stuff like that, so we’re really trying to give Kyle the same opportunity that we’ve given Kolby,” Birchett said.
Having the Special Olympics back in the county means that children, such as Kyle and Kolby, will learn the same sports as their peers and they will learn a new approach to athletics.
“It’s not only about the training but the team building, working together, socialization, getting along and hand-eye coordination,” Robinson said. “In Special Olympics, it’s all about the process and the effort.”
In its absence, money was still being raised in the county for Special Olympics, through events like the Polar Plunge and the Torch Run. Now, Robinson said, those funds can be directed to making this program run again in the county, to bring this program back for children of all ages.
“We’re not only working with youth,” Robinson said. “This is the Prince George Special Olympics so we’re working with adults as well, so there is no age limit on this.”
Since the program is in its infancy, Robinson said they have to start small and work their way up to the local, area, and state level competitions. Currently, Robinson said a half-dozen children have shown interest.
In order to participate in the events, children must have a physical completed and a form brought to the committee. Robinson said the committee has mailed out almost 50 forms to eligible children in the community, with the hopes to have six by the end of the month. While the committee is starting small, hope is present that the program will grow as the days and months pass.
“The special education parents now haven’t been exposed to the advantages of the Special Olympics,” Gandel said. “But once they are, we have every reason to believe this program is going to expand.”
Gandel also noted that given the enrollment in the schools in Prince George, there are 750 potential athletes, due to 750 students being enrolled in the IEP, Individualized Education Programs, in the schools.
Connie Wilcoxson, parent resource coordinator for the school division, was not only pleased to bring back this program for the community but also for her son, Tyler, 13.
Wilcoxson said she has had many parent inquires about the possibility of the Special Olympics in the county. She also said the program will be beneficial to her son.
“He does not like to be outside. He really isn’t involved in anything other than going to school,” Wilcoxson said. “Other than going to school, he doesn’t have any peers he interacts with.”
Robinson is pleased to bring back activities for Kyle, Kolby and Tyler as well as other children and adults in the county. The first sport will be bowling on Wednesday evening at Fort Lee. The committee is also working to line up more sports and get the program off the ground.
Kolby Birchett, 12, gets ready to play ball at the cookout on Sept. 7.
“I’d like to do some swimming. In the spring, there’s track and field,” Robinson said. Right now, the committee is waiting to asses the level of participation in the community to see what sports will be possible and then from there determine whether or not it will be possible to compete at the local and state levels.
Through the program is just getting off the ground for the county, Robinson holds high hopes for the children and adults in Prince George. His passion is evident as he looks to the future of the program and the future for the community.
“I think the sky’s the limit for these kids,” Robinson said. “They will get out and they’ll train and they’ll participate and they’ll compete and some of them will excel but the way I look at it, they all excel. If they’re out there and doing it, it’s more than what they would be doing sitting at home playing video games and on the computer and watching tv and I think it’s a positive experience. There are no losers in this competition, everyone’s a winner.”