Kathy Lowry is a Special Olympics coach in the Kansas City Metro Area.
I have been a Special Olympics coach for 18 years, and the past five years have been at William Chrisman High School. This has been sort of a challenge because, even though I am a Special Education teacher, I do not teach my athletes. I actually co-teach Algebra 1 and Intermediate Algebra, where I work with the Learning Disabled students.
I have been very blessed to have parents who are very willing to be involved. Before I came to Chrisman, their program was primarily whatever they could fit in during school hours. The belief was that parents would not be very accepting of conducting practices outside of school hours, particularly on the weekends. That has not been the case. Because we have been able to expand our program to having practices outside of school hours, our program has doubled over the past five years. Our athletes participate in bocce, golf, bowling, basketball and athletics, and we plan on adding tennis next year. We also have athletes who participate with the Jackson County Parks & Rec team in softball and floor hockey.
We don’t just play sports either – we have parties and picnics, too. For the second year in a row, we will have a float in the Homecoming Parade. We go to sports clinics and attend MU games. I have even had to pay up on promising a Chinese lunch to an athlete who performed over and beyond at a competition, two times!
Part of the growth we have experienced has been due to the Special Olympics Fan Club. This club consists mainly of general education students with a few higher functioning athletes. They plan and conduct fundraisers, participate in the Polar Plunge, have seasonal parties for the athletes, plan and promote activities for the R-Word day, and organize a very elaborate dance (Prom) for the end of the year. The climate at Chrisman has always been very accepting of the cognitively impaired students, but that acceptance and inclusion has grown over the past few years, in part due to the Fan Club and their activities. Currently, we are promoting that the athletes at Chrisman are not just Special Olympics athletes, but they are Chrisman athletes who participate in Special Olympics. It is all a part of being accepted and included in our high school setting.
One thing that shows the inclusion is that athletes who participate in Special Olympics can earn school letters, like any other extracurricular activity offered. Chrisman High School is rivals with Truman High School, and they are both Independence high schools. Whenever we play Truman in any sport, it is a big deal. That also includes the rival basketball game played by the Special Olympics basketball teams at each school. Both schools can fill a gym with general education students, cheer leaders, and dance teams, who are all there to support their school team. We have had a little bit of difficulty getting Chrisman’s StuCo involved with our athletes. Currently, one of our athletes is taking the Leadership class and has become a part of Chrisman’s student council, which is one more step in the right direction.
Watching our athletes at the Summer Games this past year was truly inspiring. We have a range of abilities from high functioning athletes, taking general education classes, to athletes in our severe and profound program. They interact with each other, keeping each other entertained and making sure not to leave anyone out. They cheer each other on during all of their events. Both make sure that everyone is always together and watching out for each other. They are truly a team on and off the court.
I thoroughly enjoy working with my athletes. I look forward to my time with them. They inspire me to have a positive outlook on life. As they push themselves to learn and become better athletes, they push me, as well, to become not only a better coach, but a better person. They can always put a smile on my face. But, of course, Alec’s greeting of “Hello, Dahling!!” is enough to make anyone’s day.