Kevin Chapman of Southwest Area named best SOMO coach, others honored

All of the coaches below were recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri from their respective areas at the SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Oct. 19 in Columbia. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were also announced at the SOMO Awards Luncheon.

Kevin Chapman — Southwest Area
DSC_9630 Kevin ChapmanKevin started the Special Olympics program at Clever Schools in 2017. Over the past few years, he has not only grown the program with athlete involvement, but has also implemented Unified Partners to the program. Kevin has recruited new coaches and volunteers to help coach and assist as they have added more sports to their program. The Clever Special Olympics program is active at Area, Regional and State events in Bowling, Basketball, Volleyball and Track & Field.  Kevin strives to provide his team with competition opportunities that allow them to grow and compete at their highest level.  He has also worked with other area Special Olympics coaches to host Special Olympics Basketball Games in conjunction with their high school games.  This has provided a great opportunity to show case the athletes of Special Olympics in their local community. In 2018, Kevin approached Clever High School about hosting the 2019 SW Area Spring Games (west side). Through his effort along with a team of administration and school faculty, Clever High School hosted a very successful Spring Games.  The entire school supported the event along with many members of the community including area Law Enforcement. Kevin also served as the Softball Umpire for the SW Area Softball Tournament and represented the SW Area at the 2019 South Central Conference in October.

Kathy Butler — Central Area
Kathy is not new to Special Olympics but each year she seems to start something new for the athletes in her area.  When a local track meet was offered by the local school district, Kathy was right there with her support and willingness to do whatever was needed. It is amazing to watch Kathy with her athletes and the love you see from them.  Both of Kathy’s older children, Victoria and Evan, caught the Special Olympics bug because of what they witnessed from their mom.  Moreover, we all know that without a supportive husband, it makes it very difficult to be involved. Not only is Kathy coaching, she is organizing other coaches, and even serves as a mentor for an Athlete Leader within ALPs.  However, Kathy exhibits the kindness for the community and state at large.  This past spring, Kathy suggested that teams could bring some can food or non-perishable items to the State Indoor Games held in St. Joseph, MO.  At that time, St. Joseph and surround communities was experiencing a flood.  Kathy thought that Special Olympics could step up with this food drive to say thanks to the community in a way that would be meaningful to them. This act is not an isolated incident that Kathy has suggested or organized.  She holds an annual Prom for the athletes in the community.  She plans, sets up and enjoys the prom each year with a special theme!  She is unbelievable.  During all this, she and her husband, Elliott, adopted 3 young boys.  It is clear that Kathy has a huge heart, loves her family, community and her athletes.

Pam Rohlfing — KC Metro Area
For Pam, Special Olympics has never been something you do a few hours a week. She was fully invested the day she took this on. She found a place for the Northstars, and have made them part of the NKCSD school district athletic family. She has successfully lobbied the district to consider the Northstars as a true school district team. Through her work, the Special Olympic high school athletes have received varsity letters and pins for years and have six sports to choose from. She puts all of her time and energy into these kids and asks or expects nothing in return. She is at all the games, practices and fundraisers. She attends all the executive meetings to discuss how we can continue to grow our team and give them more opportunities to play sports and be kids. She fights hard and advocates for the athletes to make sure they are included in school activities as any other school team would be. As a special education educator, she has insight into the lives of our athletes and their families that goes far beyond Special Olympics. We have over 100 athletes and she knows each by name. She understands how important it is to the athletes and their families. Pam’s passion and enthusiasm in working with the athletes is unparalleled and is frankly contagious.  She teaches/coaches more than a sport.  She encourages the other coaches to push our athletes to maximize the tools they have and be better than they think they can be. While competitiveness is front and center, she demands this occur in a fun environment and sportsmanship is an essential ingredient. Pam manages all of the Northstars sports and is great at delegating coaching positions to the other coaches on their staff.  She is a great role model for all of those coaches.  She takes on all of the scheduling, paperwork, physicals and skills tracking for basketball, softball, and track and is working to add new sports like soccer and bocce. As her athletes graduate from high school, she is working to make sure they have a smooth transition and are able to continue their Special Olympics careers after high school. Overall, Pam loves her athletes and is always looking to create an energetic, inclusive athletic environment full of fun and celebration. This love for “her kids” and their families is truly, why she is involved. She is one of the most passionate and hardest workers around.

Amanda Starks — North Area
Amanda Starks is a newer coach that took on all three of the sports that the Kirksville Titans do. Coach Starks also organized a ton (I mean a ton) of her Truman State University students to assist in every way! These college students respect Coach Starks and want to help at the Special Olympics events and with the Kirksville Titans because of the relationship, they have built with her. She has recruited, fundraised (over $500 for uniforms alone), promoted awareness, coached, provided rides, and assisted in starting the Kirksville Titans – an Adult SOMO program for our area. Coach Starks not only did all of this with a smile on her face, but was raising a toddler and working full time at Truman State University while she was at it. She is now doing all of this as she is expecting her second child and still shows up with smiles, positivity, and determination to make this team the best it can possibly be for these athletes.

Jeanetta Sansoucie — Southeast Area
She is one of the most patient, compassionate and caring coaches in the Southeast area.  She coaches Track and Field and Bowling.  She makes it a priority to give all her athletes individual attention.  You can tell from her interaction with her athletes how much they respect her.  Watching her cheer on her athletes and give them advice to improve their skills shows her passion for not only her athletes, but also sports in general. She puts in the extra time and effort required to successfully run a Special Olympics program, in addition to her daily full time employment as a teacher.  Other attributes that are characteristics of Jeanetta include her knowledge, organization, flexibility, compassion, and ability to recognize and meet the needs of their athletes. Many times these needs go beyond teaching a sports skill and more often it is teaching a life skill.  She gives so much time and effort to improving the lives of her athletes.

Kirk and Tammy Halveland — St. Louis Metro Area
Kirk & Tammy’s kids, Lilah and Patrick have been unified athletes that our Special Olympics Falcon athletes look up to, respect, and consider best friends. The entire family is outstanding and each one is an outstanding coach.

 

Drive it Home Raffle: Meet the Finalists!

DSC_6697 (Copy)The Drive It Home Raffle is a statewide promotion that directly benefits more than 16,000 Special Olympics Missouri athletes across the state. We are honored to work with our statewide partners to make this event a success: Missouri Automobile Dealers Association and Law Enforcement Torch Run.

IT’S A JEEP THING!  We are excited to share that Missouri Automobile Dealers Association has generously donated a 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4×4 for our Drive it Home Raffle this year.

Update: The Grand Prize Drawing took place on Oct. 19. Kevin McClellan was the winner of the 2019 Jeep Wrangler! 

Here are the finalists:

CENTRAL AREA
Don Bernskoetter purchased four tickets from Raffle partner CMR Masonry. Don enjoys being and working on their family farm. His wife, Georgene often volunteers in the community and they look forward to attending the giveaway event. If they win the Jeep, they plan to enjoy driving it for a while and may sell it and donate the proceeds back to Special Olympics Missouri. Truly generous! Ticket #: 026856

NORTH AREA
John Mutz purchased 50 tickets from SOMO staff member Melody Prawitz at the East Hills Mall. In college he knew someone who was connected to Special Olympics, so he would join them for local events. If he wins the Jeep, he plans to take a road trip to visit people in other states that he has not seen for a while; after all that is what a Jeep owner does! Ticket #: 067650

SOUTHEAST AREA
Jimmy Andrews purchased 10 tickets from Candi Quaite, who also happens to be his wife’s mom. Jimmy is connected to Special Olympics through Candi and likes to volunteer to support her work. One of their vehicles recently broke down so he is excited about this awesome opportunity to replace that vehicle. If he wins the Jeep, he will give it to his wife to drive. Ticket #: 086084

SOUTHWEST AREA
Kevin McClellan and his wife, Debbie, have been connected to Special Olympics Missouri for several years. They participate in the Joplin Truck Convoy and are close friends with Robin Anderson, SOMO staff member. They enjoy traveling and supporting SOMO as well as other charitable causes. They purchased 120 tickets from Robin the week before the deadline! If they win the Jeep, they will tow it behind their motor home! Ticket #: 082551

KANSAS CITY AREA
Candace Cervantes purchased two tickets from Laura Thomas of Riverside Police Department at Riverside’s Loud and Local event. She is a nurse practitioner and tries to give back to the community as often as she can. She is excited about being an area finalist and looks forward to learning more about Special Olympics. If she wins the Jeep, she MAY give it to her 16-year-old! Ticket #: 023541

ST. LOUIS AREA
Cynthia Bradshaw purchased two tickets at Chimi’s Restaurant Tip-A-Cop in Overland. Her and her husband frequent the restaurant. She volunteers in the community and hopes to do more with Special Olympics Missouri in the future. When asked what she would do if she won the Jeep, her response was: “Drive it.” Ticket #: 044648

Sue Schwoeppe purchased eight tickets from one of our Raffle Partners, Treloar Bar and Grill. Her sister owns the business. Being selected as a finalist surprised her, since she does not win things very often. She volunteers in the community and is looking forward to learning more about Special Olympics Missouri. As Jeep fans, they currently own one, so a new Jeep Wrangler will be a nice addition to the family. Ticket #: 037767

Laura Speed Elliott Middle School students raise money for Special Olympics through coin wars

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.

Due to the extensive damage, the students and staff at Laura Speed Elliott Middle School in Boonville participated in a Coin War to raise money for Special Olympics Missouri.

 During the Coin War, six SOMO athletes were invited to come and share their talents. Laura Speed Elliott Middle School enjoyed watching the athletes and learning more about this great organization. The students and staff donated several coins and $1,068.52 (including two larger donations from W-K Boonville and Equipment Share) was raised to be donated to help SOMO rebuild. Students celebrated with an assembly including a bid check presentation with SOMO staff members and a speech from SOMO athlete and Hall of Famer, Robb Eichelberger.

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Below is a Q&A with the school’s principal, Leslie Reardon, a teacher at the school, Laurie Painter, and student, Maggie Schuster.

Why did you all chose to do this fundraiser?

Principal Reardon (PR): I was listening to Clear99 when they did their radioathon for Jeff city and its victims. I was able to listen to a lady share about the new building and the damage done to it. We had wanted our students to give back with a project during summer school and this looked like a great fit.

What did the fundraiser consist of/how did it work?

Maggie (MS): It was a coin war. The coins are positive and bills are negative. We brought in coins and had bins with teacher’s names on them.  You put your coins in the teacher’s bin who you wanted to get a pie in the face.

Ms. Painter (MP): The way I won: The teacher with the most money at the end of the 3 days would get a pie in the face.  Obviously, the students loved me (or wanted to see me get a pie in the face) and put almost $200 in my bucket.  I then got, not one but two pies in the face.  It was so much fun!!!

Why did you/the students pick SOMO? 

PR: We have several staff who volunteer with Special Olympics, as well as staff and students who work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. I knew this would be a cause everyone would rally for.

What does it mean to the students? 

PR: The students loved it. We had 6 adults who participate in Special Olympics come share and show their talents. The students cheered them on and that gave us goosebumps hearing our students cheer the 6 adults with disabilities on. The students got so fired up, the money kept coming in on Thursday even though the Coin War was over Wednesday.

MS: It made us happy and thankful that we were able to help out.  We like to be helpful when we can help out with things like this.

What did the students learn about SOMO through this process? 

PR: Besides having the six athletes visit, we had coaches share about their experience. We also had Robb Eichelberger talk about being a Hall of Famer and the students watched several video clips shared with us by SOMO staff member Crystal Schuster.

MS: Yes, we learned that there are more than 16,000 athletes in Special Olympics Missouri and we learned that Robb Eichelberger played a lot of different sports and he told us the things he does to prepare himself for events.

About how many students/teachers participated in this fundraiser?  

PR: We had 100 students and 15 staff members participate. Plus, we had two local business also contribute (W-K Boonville $200 and Equipment Share $350).

coin war

Why is Special Olympics Special to you? 

MS: Because I enjoy seeing all the athletes working so hard to win and achieve all their goals that they have set.  It really puts a smile on my face when they are smiling and having fun while competing in the sports they love.  My friend, Jillian, competes and I have met many other friends in Special Olympics – like Sarah Byland, Robb Eichelberger, and Morgan.

MP: I chose to be part of the fundraiser because Special Olympics has always been important to me.  I was raised with an aunt that had down syndrome and I loved to spend time with her.  She was always so happy and loving.  She participated in Special Olympics when I was a kid and she absolutely loved it. Being part of the fundraiser meant a lot to me.  I really did it as an honor to my Aunt Carolyn that passed away a few years ago.  It brought back great memories of her.

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid Supports Special Olympics Missouri

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid has partnered with Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) to promote the statewide organization through a series of public service announcements.

“I believe in this organization and the positive work it does to help thousands of people across the state of Missouri,” said Reid. “The athletes’ dedication, effort and positive attitude are an inspiration to so many people, including me.”

The first installment of PSAs features five Special Olympics athletes along with Coach Reid explaining the impact of a tornado on SOMO’s Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City. In one version, Coach Reid calls on “Chiefs Kingdom and all Missourians” to find out how they can get involved in supporting the reconstruction of the campus by directing them to SOMOcampus.org.

“Coach Reid’s messages come at a crucial time as we begin to repair the damages from the tornado,” said SOMO President & CEO Susan Stegeman. “We appreciate his support as he helps bring awareness to our athletes and our program needs.”

There are radio and television versions available, as well as photos from the PSA taping. Media outlets across the state are encouraged to run it on their stations. Additional versions, with the overall focus on SOMO’s mission, will be available in the coming months. Coach Reid also taped direct messages for Special Olympics Missouri athletes, volunteers and coaches.

Athlete-Leader guest post: My experience at the United Nations

This blog post was written by athlete-leader and SOMO board of directors member Jared Niemeyer. In June, Niemeyer attended the United Nations 12th Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Below he recounts his experience at the UN and why he thinks the Special Olympics movement can make a huge difference around the world.

UN picture of Jared at microphone

What if, because of your intellectual or physical disability, you weren’t allowed to attend school, to get a job, or even participate in your community?  Many developing countries do not have policies like we do in the United States, thanks to the American Disabilities Act.

Many people do not have the same opportunities that we do. In the United States we have the opportunity for an inclusive education, competitive employment and unified living in our communities. I’m so grateful for the opportunities we have as citizens in the United States. It’s important that we work together to keep and promote those rights for every person in every country. I can’t imagine never having the opportunities I’ve had – in school, at work, in my community, as a voter, and as a Special Olympics athlete, because those things have all made me a better version of myself. I want every person to have those opportunities, so that everyone can reach their full potential.

Special Olympics promotes awareness and inclusion in 172 countries. Special Olympics works with more than 5 million athletes,  and 1 million coaches and volunteers around the world.  Special Olympics promotes inclusion and a sense community through sports; it promotes that every individual should be accepted, regardless of their ability. Together we can make our world a better place by working and playing unified. This is what is done around the world and in every community where there are Special Olympics athletes and programs!

On June 10, 2019, I had the opportunity to be one of five Special Olympics athletes allowed to speak in New York City at the United Nations 12th Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).  The panel topic was “The Revolution is Inclusion: Sport as a Catalyst for Social Inclusion.”

The moderator was Dustin Plunkett, a Special Olympics athlete from California, who is alive today because of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program.  Plunkett served as a commentator with ESPN during World Games and at other Special Olympics events!  The other panelists were Nyasa Derera of Zimbabwe, Emanuelle de Souze of Brazil, Tajha Ilerant of Florida and Chaica Al Qassimi of the United Arab Emirates.

It was an honor to get acquainted with each of these athletes and work together to share our perspective on inclusion.  Without the experience of inclusive opportunities, we would not be able to share with those at the U.N. our perspective on why disability policy is critical for every country to offer its citizens.  The disabled population is a valuable resource in every community; every one of us has something to offer!  Each individual can impact their world in a positive way if just given the opportunity to shine.

I’m so grateful that Special Olympics strives to impact our world through focusing on every individual’s ABILITIES and fights for inclusion every day.  Thank you Special Olympics for the opportunities you promote for athletes around the world – so that we can learn and grow through new experiences, gain new skills, be empowered to advocate for ourselves and for others, and to work together to make our world a better place!

You can watch my United Nations panel discussion here.

You can also read more about my experiences at the UN in this story my local newspaper wrote about me.

Panel, missing Dustin Plunkett

 

Special Olympics Missouri receives designation as an official Healthy Community

On Thursday, July 18, Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) received designation as an official “Healthy Community!” SOMO is now one of 19 organizations internationally recognized by Special Olympics International (SOI) with this distinction. This is a huge accomplishment for SOMO.

“Special Olympics Missouri is committed to ensuring those with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to thrive in every area of their life,” said Meagan Davis, SOMO Health & Wellness Manager. In our first year as a Healthy Community we have had the opportunity to develop and implement new programs, increase the number of free health screenings we provide, and incorporate overall health and wellness into every area of Special Olympics. We look forward to continuing to develop and grow our programs and community partnerships to ensure we are doing our part to create overall inclusive healthy communities for all.”

The Healthy Community grant is comprised of a three-year grant cycle in which SOMO will receive $50,000 annually for three years by striving to meet six criteria presented by SOI. In year one, SOMO fully met all six criteria distinguishing SOMO as a Healthy Community. Criterion five states that 20% of athletes in our geographical focus area have to be enrolled in on-going 6- 8 week health & wellness programs. Unlike other states, because of the Training for Life Campus, SOMO slated the geographical area as the entire state. Most states and international programs just have a smaller urban or rural focus group, making this an even greater accomplishment for Missouri!

This means that SOMO had to have a minimum of 978 athletes in on-going health & wellness programs during year one. In 2018, SOMO had 1,005 enrolled in on-going 6-8 week heath & wellness programs.

SOMO also has to provide at least three Healthy Athletes screening disciplines per year with a minimum of 150 screenings within the geographical area. In 2018, SOMO fully met these criteria with 1,457 screenings provided. SOMO worked diligently to make sure that athletes not only had access to screenings, but were also linked to follow-up care through the referral program. SOI indicated that most programs do not fully meet all criteria until year two or year three, and that becoming a Healthy Community in year one is extremely impressive.

“To know that more individuals with intellectual disabilities throughout Missouri are living healthier lives because they have access to health & wellness opportunities provided by Special Olympics, is one of our organization’s greatest accomplishments,” said Mary Niswonger, SOMO Partnership Director.

Please contact Meagan Davis at 573-819-6203, or Mary Niswonger at 573-579-6040, for more information.

The Impact of Young Athletes

 Editor’s note: This session of Young Athletes concluded in early May 2019. 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 now closed for extensive repairs which are expected to take many months to complete. Visit http://www.somocampus.org for updates on the #SOMORebuild.

In early 2007, Special Olympics created the Young AthletesTM program to reach out to children ages 2 to 7, with intellectual disabilities, and to welcome them and their families to the Special Olympics movement.

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For the past several months, students from Southwest Early Childhood Center in Jefferson City have been coming to the Training for Life Campus to participate in the Special Olympics Missouri Young Athletes program. Southwest Early Childhood Center provides special education programs to assist children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities and developmental delays.

Sarah Wilding, principal of Southwest Early Childhood Center, said they partnered with Special Olympics Missouri in 2010 in conjunction with the Torch Run. At that event, they participated in a one-day program on the front lawn of the capitol – it was called Young Athletes.

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Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, such as running, kicking and throwing. The program offers families, teachers, caregivers and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children.

“It was such a wonderful experience for our children to engage in the physical and social activities,” Wilding said.

“Our partnership with Special Olympics is important because it lets families know that Special Olympics exists and it gets kids and families comfortable with the facilities here so that as they get older maybe they will participate in some of the Special Olympics games and the different opportunities that they have,” said Lisa Wieberg, a teacher at Southwest Early Childhood Center.

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 our athletes, such as Young Athletes. 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.

“It’s a place we didn’t have before, where kids can come and where things are modified and there are accommodations made so that they can participate in activities that they may not be able to do at other places in our community,” Wieberg said.

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Wilding said, “When Special Olympics opened their training center…we actually really jumped at the chance to partner with Special Olympics because it’s such an amazing program and such an amazing facility.”

Young Athletes provides children with activities and games that meet their individual skill and ability levels, while allowing them to play together in a fun and inclusive environment. The program shows that all children should be valued for their talents and abilities.

“It’s an opportunity for our children to come out and participate in the physical development activities, to practice their language skills, their social skills, to those taking-turns things that are so important,” Wilding said. “But it’s not just the kids that are gaining from this, if you look at the smiling faces on these adults, they’re having fun with the children, they’re practicing skills in a real life meaningful way.”

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Through Young Athletes, volunteers introduce young children to the world of sport, with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics Missouri sports training and competition at age 8.

“For a lot of our families this is an opportunity for them to get to know the broad range of services that are available through Special Olympics because for some of our families this will be a lifelong relationship with Special Olympics,” Wilding said. “It’s really a great opportunity for our children and our families to get out in the community and know what’s available for them.”

The program focuses on the basics that are crucial to cognitive development: physical activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and the application of these physical skills through sports skills programs.

“My daughter Deandra Mckaye has been attending the Special Olympics Young Athletes program for over a month now and it has been great with her development because she has had some physical challenges in the past and so this program has really helped her to overcome those challenges,” said Dianna Mckaye, parent of a young athlete.

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Children learn how to play with others and develop important skills for learning. Children also learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills help children in family, community and school activities.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity for him to come and get to play and participate in sports,” said Heather Heidbreder, parent of a young athlete. “He has a hard time with language skills and listening to directions, so having an adaptive program like this where he can play with his peers and participate in team sports, it means the world to us. I am just very happy that we have this facility here and that my son is able to participate in these sports and I hope that we continue to have these opportunities available for other children like my son so that they can learn what it’s like to be in sports.”

Torrence Malone, parent of a young athlete, said Young Athletes is a fun way for children to get fit. He said it is important to teach children healthy habits while they are young.

“The Young Athletes program has helped my son Carter build teamwork with other children and learn how to be a teammate,” said Malone. “I believe it’s a great program because if it wasn’t for the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, some of these kids probably wouldn’t even be active.”

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Special Olympics Missouri served more than 1,450 young athletes in 2018. For many of their families, this is their first introduction to the resources and support Special Olympics offers for children (and adults) with intellectual disabilities.

“Special Olympics is really here as a resource,” said Susan Shaffer, Program and Outreach Director for Special Olympics Missouri. “At an early age, we have so much that we can offer them to see what their child can do. Special Olympics is a lifelong (partnership), from sports to our leadership program, these are the things we can start when they are young. I really want the parents to know that it’s through sports that behaviors change, they become stars. I want the parents that come into the building to know that we are here for them to help them and not just in Special Olympics, but in life.”

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Through Young Athletes, all children, their families and people in the community can be a part of building an inclusive team together.

Young Athletes helps lead children into a bright new world of sports and social skills — one full of pride and possibility.

Mckaye said, “I think this is a very good program for children with special needs. I would recommend this program to anybody and everybody.”