Editor’s note: This Challenge Day took place May 10, 2019. Less than two weeks later on May 22, an EF3 tornado tore through Jefferson City, destroying our athletic field and damaging the roof and most interior spaces at the Training for Life Campus. The campus is closed for extensive repairs which are expected to be completed in May 2020. Visit somocampus.org for updates on the #SOMORebuild.
On May 10, students from Delmar Cobble State School, Dogwood State School and Kirchner State School attended a Challenge Day held at the Special Olympics Missouri Training for Life Campus.
Challenge Days are a one-day event that have been designed specifically for people with severe and profound disabilities, who are often not able to compete in a rigorous sport program. Due to the need to offer more activities to this population, it has been a goal of Special Olympics Missouri to expand on their motor skills programs, including offering more events such as Challenge Days.
Special Olympics Missouri has planned Challenge Days at these schools for decades, but this was the first such event to take place at the new Training for Life Campus.
“The state school is for students with severely-handicapped needs,” said Shelly Stumbaugh, a teacher at Kirchner State School. “The Challenge Day is bringing different schools together and having the kids do their best, try different sports and have fun. We do a Challenge Day once a year with Special Olympics Missouri.”
Challenge Days consist of various activities in which participants take part either as an individual or on a team. Each participant is given the opportunity to play sports such as basketball, volleyball, T-ball, wheelchair races, bowling and bocce.
Special Olympics Missouri staff felt that there was a need when it came to providing services for individuals with severe disabilities. Challenge Days are designed specifically for this population so that they too can experience the joy of being an athlete.
“We try to be involved with them and they help us out,” Stumbaugh said. “They donate different things for us, they provide awards for the kids and T-shirts if possible. It’s just a great way to show the community the kids that have special needs and what they can do.”
While many individuals with intellectual and physical challenges can compete and excel in sports, many with severe disabilities miss out on the athletic experience because organizations and society as a whole haven’t prioritized their needs.
“Delmar Cobble has been involved with Challenge Day for about 30-some-odd years,” said Donna Davis, a teacher at Delmar Cobble State School. “I remember when we would do Challenge Day, … We would pick the kids up on Saturday morning and we would transport them to the stadium where they could participate in Special Olympics. But probably due to funding, we stopped that and then Special Olympics came to the school and then we called it Challenge Day.”
Mona Purvis, a family member of a Challenge Day participant, said, “(Susan Shaffer, Special Olympics Missouri’s Outreach Director) came to our school and we just held it one day where we had games. We didn’t get to travel but we always still had a Special Olympics day and they have since (my son has) been attending there back in 2006.”
Davis said, “So now that the physical abilities of the students have changed over the years, the activities have changed to … more activities that will allow them to participate at their level. Maybe not physically, but through fine motor skills.”
All activities are modified to meet their individual needs. For example, in bocce and bowling, a ramp is used to assist athletes when rolling the ball. These athletes are given the opportunity to experience the joy of sport.
With the opening of the Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City in September 2018, Special Olympics Missouri has been able to provide more services and resources, and host more programs for people with intellectual disabilities, such as Challenge Days. This facility is the first of its kind in the world, with the purpose of enriching the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities through sport, health and leadership opportunities. It was built to inspire a new drive in our athletes so that they may continue to develop their physical and social skills.
“In the past, Challenge Day has been at our school or at a park, and now we have the chance to come to this new facility and it’s just great because you’ve got a track, you’ve got the turf, you’ve got different things going on inside,” Stumbaugh said. “It’s just a fun time for the kids and a way for the community to see what we have here in Jeff City.”
Davis said that it was great for the parents to see the Training for Life Campus and all the activities their children got to participate in. She is hopeful that this will encourage the parents to get their kids involved in Special Olympics Missouri’s program.
“A lot of our kids don’t get involved in Special Olympics outside the school setting and so this may help some of the parents realize that, ‘Hey, there’s Special Olympics and my child can be involved in it and on their level and they’ve got this great facility to where my child can go and meet other individuals and participate in physical activities’.”
Through Challenge Days, all children, their families and people in the community can be a part of building an inclusive team together.
“Students with severely handicap needs are just like anyone else,” Stumbaugh said. “I mean they are people even though they may not communicate, they are very smart, they have feelings, they laugh, they cry just like everyone else.
“Just reach out and acknowledge that they are there. Talk to them and actually see what they can do. You’d be surprised.”