Penn State is home to national champions, All-Americans, collegiate record-holders and even a living legend.
This weekend, though, all of those accomplishments take a back seat to a very special series of sports.
More than 2,000 athletes and 700 coaches are preparing to converge on University Park for the 2008 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games, the organization’s biggest event of the year.
If you’ve never attended a Special Olympics event, you are missing out on one of the most heartwarming and moving settings in all of sports.
Whether you’re watching an adult, usually using a wheelchair, power his way through the pool, a young girl with Down Syndrome fall through the finish line, or a team of special-needs basketball players working together to run plays and score points, Special Olympics illustrates all that sports should be.
Special Olympics began in the 1960s by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, which states its partial mission as “to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.’’
From day one, their building blocks have celebrated the physical, psychological and social value of sports.
The Games would never be possible without hundreds of volunteers on all levels. Local coaches give their time and talent to work out with athletes, often weekly, at bowling alleys and tennis courts, gyms and tracks throughout the state. County coordinators plan competitions, organize event volunteers and raise funds and awareness.
The State Games’ committee orchestrates beautiful opening and closing ceremonies, complete with a torch lighting and dance. They also coordinate every detail of every event.
They volunteer to give the thrill of competition to a very worthy sector of our society. This special group of athletes not only appreciates the opportunity, they thrive on it, taking the skills learned and friendships made away from the athletic field and into their day-to-day lives.
There may be no other athletic arena where we all, athletes, coaches and volunteers, learn more about overcoming obstacles and battling through adversity than in Special Olympics, no other sport setting where we see more clearly the power of teamwork, friendship and love.
During this weekend’s Summer Games, there will be no drug testing needed, no agents with whom to negotiate, no multi-million dollar endorsements, and no betting scandals.
There will be inspiring performances, tearful medal ceremonies, and the unbridled joy of competition. Friends made and lessons learned, the hugs and the smiles will say it all.
Volunteers will tell you they gain more from Special Olympics than they give. The truth is we can all learn a lesson from the athletes’ oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’’
These brave athletes, their coaches and volunteers are already winners, with or without a gold medal.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org'>email@example.com. Her column runs on Tuesdays.