Special Olympics Going Beyond Just Sports


As children, we all have hopes and dreams to be successful in every aspect of our life. We can aspire to be the best friend, coworker, or teammate but when you are faced with challenges that cannot be changed, you see how you can overcome them. Many individuals in the community have a disability but have the dream of being the best athlete they can be. They aspire to win medals, compete and be part of a team that has the same goals as them. When faced with a disability life is just a little bit harder, but the work ethic is one step higher, and that’s where organization’s such as Special Olympics assists those individuals to become the best athlete they can be.

(Photo courtesy of Presidio Sports Photos)

Special Olympics is an organization that is locally and globally known for their work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. They provide year round sports to their athletes both in the training and competitive level and serves the community from children to adults. Special Olympics is not new to the community, it has been around since 1968 and offers a community that assists in including individuals with an intellectual disability to the the rest of the community along with acceptance. This organization is world wide and has over 200 million people with intellectual disabilities participating in the multitude of sports offered. There are over 35 sports incorporated in this organization from swimming, to soccer, cycling, bocce, bowling, floor hockey and much much more. But one of the major sports events that happen in Santa Barbara County is the School Games.

“Special Olympics Southern California School Games provides training and competitive sports options to elementary, middle, and high school special education and adapted physical education students. It encourages youth participation, inclusion and leadership in local schools and prepares school age students for participation in SOSC sports opportunities beyond the school day.” — Special Olympics Mission Statement 

This event brings all of the special education classes from all schools ranging from elementary through high school from nine different school districts. The school games not only gives the athletes an opportunity to compete but also to gain “bragging rights” when representing their school. For most of the athletes, this is the first time they will be participating in a sports event let alone representing their school. Through this event, there is lots of work that goes into it day in and day out for it to run as smoothly as possible. The one person who helps in managing the sports and events for the Santa Barbara County region can be found by the name Tim Ballaret. His position of the last year and a half since becoming part of the Special Olympics family is the Senior Manager, Sports and Programs. Before stepping into this role he was always involved in sports and a former athletic director so as he stated “it was a natural progression” for him to step into this role within Special Olympics.

(Photo courtesy of Special Olympics of Southern California)

EY: How did the school games get started?

TB: The School games have been going on for I believe five years before my time. The school games in general as Special Olympics helps to provide a sports experience to local special education students in area. Santa Barbara County schools from elementary to high school to participate. Each athlete gets out and plays soccer against other schools and gives them the opportunity to participate in a sport but also helps in getting them into traditional programs outside of school.

EY: What school districts are involved in these games and who participates?

TB: Well there are nine school districts involved in this event from Goleta Unified, Carpinteria Unified, and local school districts. Each region within Special Olympics has its own schools in a particular area for this type of event.

EY: How can the community get involved?

TB: Volunteering is the best way to get the community involved. They can volunteer for the day in which they can be scorekeepers, lines people, help with lunch, setup and breakdown but also assist in the many different activities and opportunities that are offered at this event to expose the athletes to different sports skill clinics. We also encourage attending the events to cheer on students in what they are participating in, cheer for students themselves and their school. Another big way the community can get involved is through donations, sponsors for different aspects and monitoring sponsors for specific events.  

EY: What makes Special Olympics stand out from the rest?

TB: Special Olympics for me is not just a sports organization. It uses sports as a foundation for what we are trying to do and the population we serve. We are an organization that is ultimately a vehicle for socialization, showing the participates how to be active and stay active. By participating in the sports events the participants develop the skills of teamwork, cooperation, working with others, and problem-solving. Special Olympics is a sports organization but goes beyond just the sports. We provide different aspects, athletics, help in social-emotional development, wellness programs, and physical activity. We always give the participant an opportunity to succeed and grow as an individual.

“Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills, and success. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment — on the playing field and in life.”

(Photo courtesy of Special Olympics of Southern California)

Special Olympics is a one of kind organization that brings sports to a community that most times is pushed away from being part of a team. They open the door for individuals with intellectual disabilities to have the opportunity to be part of a team and compete. Along with competition, the participant is also gaining lifelong learning experiences to become a well-rounded individual in society. Without organizations such as this one many individuals would still shy away from people with disabilities but this bridges the gap to bring both populations together. If you are interested in cheering on these students, volunteering, donating or just want to learn more about who they are, please visit their website https://www.sosc.org/home for more information.


About Author


Ebony Young

Ebony Young is in her last quarter at Antioch University of Santa Barbara. She received her A.A. degree in early childhood education from Santa Barbara City College in May 2016. In Spring 2017, Ebony started her school journey at Antioch University of Santa Barbara where she is working towards completing her bachelors with a concentration in early childhood education. After receiving her BA, she hopes to continue her journey in the Masters program to get her degree in multiple subjects and certificate in special education. She is currently a preschool teacher in Lompoc at Head Start where she teaches children aged three to five.

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