Being a Special Olympics Coach

Kathy Lowry is a Special Olympics coach in the Kansas City Metro Area.

King and Queen at William Chrisman’s Special Olympics Prom

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.  

William Chrisman High School’s Homecoming Parade

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.  

Receiving William Chrisman letters for participation in Special Olympics

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.

William Chrisman’s Fan Club logo

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.

Advertisements

MASC Leadership Workshop: Go for the Gold!

Trish Lutz is the Area Services Director and leads our Youth Activation Council. She can be reached at lutz@somo.org. Through our partnership with the Missouri Association of Student Councils, SOMO leaders attend their Leadership Workshop each summer. Below, Trish blogs about the experience.

Sunday

The theme for Camp this year is “Leadership: Go for the Gold!” It is an Olympic theme in honor of our great country and the Summer Olympics coming up. Obviously, we are loving the theme!

Today’s theme was: “Play A Part of History.” I’d say that SOMO and MASC are playing a strong part in history. The MASC Leadership Camp has been around for many, many years and has been held here at William Woods for 60 years! It has only been in the past three years that individuals with intellectual disabilities have been invited to be a part of this opportunity. It is because of MASC and their focus of building inclusive school environments where ALL individuals are accepted and respected for their abilities and differences.

This is our 4th year coming to camp. With any new opportunity, you have to ease into it so that you can ensure a positive experience for all involved. After three years of coming for half the week, this year, these 7 athletes are making history as we are staying for the ENTIRE WEEK!

Today’s activities were pretty routine. Getting acquainted with their councils, eating dinner (which by the way is yummy and there is always blue bunny ice cream treats for dessert!), playing games, listening to a great motivational speaker and then time for tranquility. Each evening there is “tranquility” time where we all come together and reflect on the days happenings and sing a few songs. It is quiet time before we head off to bed.

Rest assured, everyone is having a GREAT time. Our partners are “bored” because the athletes have already made tons of friends and don’t “need” them anymore! However, they will be there for them all week if they do! Matt Cepeda, Justin Bernhardt and Sierra Simmons are return campers, so they are showing the rest of the gang the ropes!

Monday

After wishing Sierra a Happy Birthday, we were off to the opening session to learn about setting goals. Other activities included doing some public speaking activities and getting to know other council members during “one on one” time. They pair up and spend time getting to know each other. I understand Matt Ziesel got paired up with two young ladies and did his best to impress them!

They also discussed acceptance and inclusion, lead by our very own SOMO YAC Co-Advisor, Jacob Conklin (Jacob also wears a couple of other hats as a STUCO advisor at Pleasant Hope High School and SPED teacher and as an Adult Counselor here at Camp).

The theme for today was “In the True Spirit of the Games,” and they participated in the traditional MASC Olympics. This is a time for fun and games and do a lot of team building with their respective councils. You will have to ask them about some of the wild and crazy activities they had to do (like passing an orange down the line with their chin or holding a tennis ball between their knees and hopping to put it in a bucket!).

The evening ended, as usual with tranquility. Again, a time to reflect and relax before heading off to bed.

Needless to say, everyone had a GREAT day, but they are exhausted.

P.S. You should know that we have some of the BEST Partners here this week with our athletes. Thank you Alan, Renzi, Rachel, Brandon, Brittany and Andrea – I love you guys!

Tuesday

After a very busy day of project planning, project presenting, creating a unique song as a council and singing the song in front of over 500 delegates……it is time to go to bed!

A shout out to Rachel Antal and Justin Bernhardt, SOMO YAC Co-Presidents who presented today the Top 10 Reasons Why MASC and SOMO Share the Spirit!

I am so proud of everyone!

Wednesday

WOW! What a day! Our theme was “Let’s Celebrate Together.”

We started our morning with GUSTO with a presentation by Marty Powers. Marty has been coming to this camp for 30+ years and is a former football coach and STUCO advisor. He is great speaker and really knows how to connect with kids. He also plays the guitar each night during tranquility and leads us in songs.

Then, they headed to round table discussions where they learned about different projects/ideas to take back to their schools and Student Councils.

After round tables, we headed to the park up the street where they did a variety of teambuilding activities, that included being lifted up by their councils into the air! I was SO proud of each and every one of our athletes for what they accomplished today.  They were true leaders today who had the courage to try new things and step out of their comfort zones!

We celebrated our day with DANCE! I got pictures of most everyone at the dance except Morgan — she was such a dancing machine I couldn’t keep up with her!

Finally, at tranquility, one of our SOMO YAC partners, Rachel Pearson, who is a junior counselor (JC) here this week, shared her “gift.” Each JC does a video and presents it to the group to “gift” everyone with something. Rachel’s was about recognizing and celebrating the “little things in life.” She used what she has learned through her involvement with SOMO how it is the little things that matter the most . . . smiles, friendships, happiness and making memories that last a lifetime. It was a beautiful video and we were all crying!

There was one other VERY important activity from today. They held a Duck Race for SOMO and raised over $1,600.

Thursday

As I sit here this evening and reflect on this past week, I have so many thoughts and feelings spinning around in my head and heart. The best way I can describe my thoughts is with a quote by John Wayne. John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” This is so true for EVERY person who has experienced this week from the athletes, to the chaperones and to the families!

We had several athletes here who have NEVER been away from home for more than a night or weekend until now! Many came here on Sunday apprehensive and nervous, yet they had the COURAGE to stay and try something brand new. Our motto this week has been “never give up” even if you are faced with something that is outside your comfort zone. Brooke, Matt, Matt, Justin, Morgan, Marcy and Sierra, each showed their COURAGE at some point this week.

Brooke:

Brooke was very shy and quiet the first day. She barely said two words in her council, BUT tonight during the evening session, each council got on stage and had to “sum up” their week and what they learned as a council. Only a few got to speak from each council.  BROOKE stood in front of everyone (about 600 people) with a microphone and spoke from her heart about what she learned this week with her council. THAT IS COURAGE!

Matt Z:

This was a whole new experience for Matt Z as well, but Matt had no problem being himself and showing others how to be themselves as well. Matt, too, got on stage tonight and shared why he liked coming to camp. That is COURAGE!

Matt C:

Matt C has been here before, so this might have seemed like it was going to be easy for him, HOWEVER, this was his first year to stay all week. He had to try some new things, like trusting people he just met to lead him around a park, blindfolded. But what was even more important about that opportunity was that it not only taught trust, but communication. Each person had to communicate with each other so that they would feel comfortable and be able to get where they were going together as a team. That is COURAGE!

Morgan:

This was Morgan’s first real time being away from home as well. I watched Morgan on Wednesday at the park during one certain exercise. What you had to do was spin in a circle with your eyes closed and make yourself dizzy. Then you had to TRUST and listen to others try and LEAD you to the top of the hill, WITH YOUR EYES closed to the finish line. Now, those of you who do not know Morgan, you are probably thinking – okay – what’s the big deal. Most other people would not have a challenge with this because they would use their sense of hearing to get them to the top of the hill. However, Morgan has a hearing impairment so she recognized the challenge. She spoke up for herself and said, “I need help with this activity,” and her friend from her council helped guide her to the top. That not only was COURAGEOUS, but showed her skills as a leader because she was willing to ask for help!

Justin:

Justin is a returning camper as well. This is actually his 3rd time coming to camp. His first year, I could barely get him to smile, let alone talk! This year, he walked in with his head held high, high fiving people he had met the year before and stepped up as a leader in his council. Let’s just say, this year, I NEVER saw him without a smile and, well, he certainly wasn’t quiet! That’s called taking your COURAGE and putting into action!

Marcy:

I have to say, from the beginning, I could sense Marcy was pretty excited about being here! Marcy’s true COURAGE showed at the park during the trust activities. I watched as she really struggled with the activity where you had to trust your council to lift you up. She expressed her fears with everyone and they encouraged her and told her that they would never drop her and that they were there for her. She took a deep breath and then the next thing you know she is in the air! She completely stepped out of her comfort zone. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know that I could have done what she did (or the other athletes for that matter ). That’s Courage!

Sierra:

Sierra had been here two other times, so she kinda knew what to expect, but not for the whole week. I was VERY proud of Sierra because she, too, spoke this evening in front of everyone on stage! Sierra was about like Justin her first year at camp, very shy, very apprehensive. I truly have seen Sierra grow through this experience and she has become more confident and COURAGEOUS!

Brittany, Brandon, Andrea, Renzi, Alan and Rachel (aka – the chaperones): THANK YOU! You have been an instrumental part of making this week such a success. You each are amazing individuals and I am so proud to have you as part of SOMO YAC!

So, in closing – moms, dads, coaches, teachers and friends – you should be very proud. I look forward to seeing each of the athletes put what they learned this week into action at home, in their schools and at their jobs.

We went for the Gold and we SUCCESSFULLY achieved it! Way to go!