Local Special Olympics team to host first informal meet

The New Albany Special Olympics team will host its first informal track meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 14, in the New Albany High School football stadium.

“It’s more like an informal, fun thing,” said Amy Thomas, founder of the local Special Olympics team.

Thomas said the New Albany and Westerville Special Olympics teams will practice together and team members have the chance to earn ribbons.

“People can come and watch and cheer them on,” she said.

Thomas said the June 14 meet will prepare the New Albany team for the state meet, which will be held June 23 and 24 in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on the campus of the Ohio State University.

Thomas organized the New Albany Special Olympics team in January 2011 as a nonprofit organization. The organization is part of Special Olympics Ohio.

In her first annual report, Thomas wrote, “New Albany Special Olympics fits well with the growing image of New Albany as a healthy community.

“For children and adults with intellectual disabilities, New Albany Special Olympics provides an opportunity to get involved, improve their physical fitness, be part of a team and experience the thrill of winning.”

New Albany Special Olympics works with ages 8 and older in track and field events, bowling and swimming.

Thomas said in 2011, she had 10 to 12 on the team. For the team’s second year, she has 20 athletes and 80 volunteers who help with events and practices.

Thomas said many children and adults with special needs are not able to compete in athletics events.

“They certainly get to enjoy the feel of winning,” she said of the team members who have participated in events.

She said some team members had shied away from the finish line because they feared the cheers that awaited them.

“To see them grow, especially the autistic kids, they kind of come out of their shell,” she said.

In her annual report, Thomas wrote, “Special Olympics provides continual opportunities to develop physical fitness and experience the joy and challenge of competition.

“Athletes develop new skills and form new friendships. They learn to set higher goals for themselves and in working to achieve them, (they) gain self-confidence and self-respect.

“This increased sense of self-worth carries over into other areas of their lives and has a profound effect on athletes’ families.”

Thomas said the New Albany Special Olympics team found support in the community and gained awareness by participating in the Founders Day and Fourth of July parades.

The team worked with local businesses and individuals, who helped support attendance at sanctioned events.

Thomas said Special Olympics Ohio requires each nonprofit to raise funds and pay entry fees for athletes who participate in events.

New Albany elementary school fourth-graders also shared profits from their Entrepreneur Day, in which the students created a product and tried to sell it to community members during a business unit at the school.

“Since two or three of our athletes are fourth-graders, they were giving back to their classmates,” Thomas said.

According to the New Albany-Plain Local Schools District, the fourth-graders raised $13,000 from Entrepreneur Day this year and donated the money to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State, New Albany Special Olympics, the Stefanie Spielman Breast Cancer Research Fund at Ohio State and the Chromosome 18 Registry and Research Society.
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