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DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics set to mark another year on May 1

April 24, 2013

In this photo taken last May, representatives of the Punxsutawney Area School District display their banner at the DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics. With the spring weather finally upon the region, it’s time for another annual installment, which will take place May 1 in DuBois. (Spirit file photo)

DUBOIS — As long as the sun is up and the weather stays warm, the DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics event will be returning on Wednesday,
May 1, with its popular annual Track and Field Competition.

The games and activities will kick off between 9:30 and 10 a.m. at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois. Students from the Brookville, Brockway, Punxsutawney and DuBois area school districts, as well
as New Story School and Fayette Resources, will compete in a variety of
events, including the softball throw, the running long jump, the 25 meter developmental, the 50 meter dash, the 100 meter dash and the 200 meter dash.

"They all look forward to it," said Frank Hetrick, Special Olympics committee member. "It's their day in the sun. They love the competition. They love meeting other kids."

Established in July 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics is
a program in which competitive sporting events are provided for physically or mentally challenged athletes, though DuBois Jefferson County Special Olympics is targeted specifically at the mentally disabled.

Special Olympics was founded on the philosophy that people with intellectual disabilities can learn to enjoy and benefit from participation in individual and team sports, provided they have the proper instruction and encouragement. Its intent is to use athletic training and friendly competition to benefit the participants mentally, socially and spiritually.

The Special Olympics oath summarizes its spirit: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics first came to the area when it was started in DuBois in 1980. Athletes from the aforementioned schools and organizations compete in sporting events throughout the year, ranging from soccer to swimming, bowling and basketball.

However, the Track and Field Competition is the largest DuBois-Jefferson County Special Olympics event, drawing as many as 175 special needs athletes ranging in age from eight to 80 to participate in the competitions.

"This, by far, is the single biggest gathering of Special Olympians," Hetrick said.

The location of the competition rotates between three school districts — Punxsutawney, Brookville and DuBois. This year and next, DuBois will be playing host to the event.

The Track and Field Competition features all of the aforementioned competitive events. Participating students are permitted to pick as many as three but can do one or two if that's all they want to take on.

The athletes have already chosen their events and have been practicing in the days leading up to the competition. Their respective school districts and organizations submit their students' events and their preliminary results so that the athletes can be grouped into heats of other participants of about the same ages and skill levels.

"It's ready to go when they get there," Hetrick said.

Ribbons for first, second and third place are awarded in each of the events.

"They're all very, very happy to do that," Hetrick said. "There are no sore losers. Everybody's a winner."

It's not all sports and competition, however. There's also the Olympic Village, an area set aside for games, arts and crafts, face painting and other fun activities for when the athletes are not competing. In addition to that, the day kicks off with a parade of athletes.

Volunteers, coming from the bi-county area as well as from the participating school districts, are always needed. It takes about 50 volunteers simply to run the events, Hetrick said, and many more when the other activities are taken into account. Some of them assist at the Olympic Village. Others help manage the individual events, help hand out ribbons and assist with the provided lunch. Many of the volunteers are paired up with one of the competitors to assist him or her between competitions and other events; every volunteer is given a map and a schedule of events to expedite this process.

Anyone interested in volunteering can do so either by calling Hetrick at 814-590-4274 or by simply showing up on the day of the event and offering their services.

For more information about the Special Olympics, contact county manager Stacey Truman at 814-849-2562 or email her at specialolympicsdjc@yahoo.com.

There are rain dates set up in case of bad weather. Cancellations will be made early in the morning and announced on WPXZ radio 104.1.

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