SPECIAL OLYMPIANS ENJOY THE CHALLENGES OF ATHLETIC COMPETITION
As they lace up their sneakers, grab their bowling balls and step out onto the tennis court, local Special Olympics competitors all have the same mantra: “Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
It’s a message they learned from Kathy Cramer and Cherie Taylor, co-directors of Special Olympics South Carolina Area 8, which was established 27 years ago and includes Beaufort and Jasper counties. It started as a single track and field event but today includes multiple sports and year-round training and competitions.”
Cramer in particular won special praise for her efforts to encourage special-needs athletes. In April, David Bennett, then mayor of Hilton Head Island, recognized her with one of seven Honored Island Awards. “I thank Kathy Cramer for being a fierce advocate in improving the lives of special education athletes in Beaufort and Jasper counties, giving them a chance to engage in a healthy, active lifestyle,” Bennett said during the ceremony.”
More than 5 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities participate in Special Olympics events around the world each year. Founded in 1968, the organization helps participants to become physically fit and achieve their goals. The free program is open to those ages 6 and older, and Special Olympians compete at regional, state, national and international levels — often paired with an able-bodied athlete as part of a unified team. The Lowcountry’s Area 8 has sent four athletes to the past two Special Olympics World Games, and all four earned medals.”
There are about 480 children and adults in the Lowcountry who compete in Special Olympics events alongside volunteers from area organizations like Beaufort County Public Schools, the Beaufort County Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, and Programs for Exceptional People.”
South Carolina Area 8 Special Olympics sports include:”
- Basketball: With practices beginning each January at the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Bluffton campus, basketball participants prepare for state games held in Columbia in February. The number of players in Area 8 has recently averaged around 30 each year.”
- Cheerleading: Called the “Islanders Dream Team,” Area 8 cheerleaders participate in all-star cheerleading competitions against other all-star teams around the state and at the National Special Olympics games in Atlanta.
- Equestrian: The Heroes on Horseback program provides Special Olympics training and competition for about 200 athletes. Six coaches lead a three-part training program each week: horseback riding, horsemanship and arts and crafts related to horseback riding. Beaufort and Jasper county schools transport participants to the training location in Pritchardville.
- Golf: Two unified golf teams, each composed of two Special Olympians and two unified golfers, tee up for practices on Saturdays. They go to the state competition in October in Myrtle Beach. Two years ago, they went to Seattle for the national golf competition.
- Kayaking: Kayaking training starts in May and ends in August, with a final competition in Charleston.
- Swimming: Swimmers attend practices year-round at the YMCA in Port Royal. This past year, five teams from around the state — including one from Area 8 — met in April in Charleston for the regional Special Olympics swim meet and traveled to Columbia in May for the state competition. “I get excited about coaching our team because our swimmers get so excited, which really fuels my enthusiasm,” coach Debra Marshall said. “When they go to Columbia for the state competition, they are jumping for joy; it feels like Christmas in summer to them.”
- Tennis: More than 100 players are enrolled in Beaufort County’s Special Olympics tennis programs, coordinated by Michael Chambers of Public Tennis Inc. Each fall, Hilton Head Island hosts the National Special Olympics tennis tournament. Royce Silvan, a tennis pro who coaches the Hilton Head Island Special Olympics team, says it’s been nothing but a great experience for him. “Hands down, the two hours that I hold practices for these athletes are the best of all the hours in my week,” he said. “I love coaching them — it really pumps me up.”
Twelve local athletes and their partners will compete in the National Adult Unified bowling tournament March 6-7 in Las Vegas. Unified sports are when a Special Olympic athlete is paired with a typical person and they compete together.
Track and Field competition will take place at 10 a.m. April 5 at May River High School in Bluffton. About 300 athletes will compete.
For more information, donate or volunteer: Call Kathy Cramer at 843 -422-5747 or Cherie Taylor 843-384-0079.