Special Olympics coordinator Julie Monroe said the kickoff had a special meaning to those involved in the various MRDD programs in the area and the participants.
“There's several reasons we're having the kickoff,” she said. “One, obviously is to kick off the '07 and '08 Special Olympics season, which will consist of bowling, basketball, and track and field events. And also to raise awareness about Special Olympics in the community, so that other people will have the opportunity to sign up to be a volunteer. If they want to participate, we're having games and different things like that to try to draw the community in, so that more people can learn about Special Olympics.”
Monroe said there is nothing in the community more rewarding than to get involved in Special Olympics.
“This is one of the most rewarding things that one can get involved in, because it reminds us how fortunate we all are,” she said. “And these athletes get so much joy and they're so appreciative, and I think in today's world, it's hard to find people like that.”
Steve Zuene, of Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, is the coach of the team and has been working with the athletes through the summer.
“For our walk-a-thon today we had 25, and they've been training all summer, two to three times a week, and they walked four times around Tracy Park, which is a mile, so this is really an accomplishment,” Zuene said. “They really put a lot of work into it. But we couldn't do it without the volunteers,” he said.
Another group working on the event came from the staff at SOCF.
Deputy Warden for Special Services at SOCF David Newsome said several participants from the facility turned out for the event.
“We've got probably 10 folks here from the specialized mental health unit participating, helping with activities,” Newsome said. “We brought some canopies out to help them, and we've helped serve food, cook food, things like that.”
Newsome said participating in Special Olympics is a break for some of the SOCF employees.
“We work in such a negative environment. We come out here, and we see the hugs and the kisses and the family atmosphere, and the smiles from these kids,” he said. “It's just a very positive atmosphere.”
Newsome credited Warden Edwin Voorhies for allowing the employees to volunteer their services.
Monroe said the local Special Olympics program took a hiatus from 2001 through 2005, and now is gearing up to return to regional competition with hopes of involvement in state competition in the near future.