Several local parents and teachers are organizing a Special Olympics team for New Albany.

Several local parents and teachers are organizing a Special Olympics team for New Albany.

"Special Olympics is a year-round ongoing program of training and athletic events for people aged 8 and older with intellectual disabilities or cognitive delays," said Amy Thomas, one of the parents organizing the team.

To answer questions and explain more about the Special Olympics, Thomas has scheduled an information session for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 23, at the New Albany branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library on Market Street.

Thomas said her son, Matthew, has participated in Westerville's Special Olympics program and when New Albany teacher Barry Ward suggested forming a local team, she responded. Ward is a wellness teacher and adapted physical education specialist for New Albany-Plain Local schools.

"New Albany continues to have a growing population of adults and children with disabilities," Ward said. "However, in a small community there are limited opportunities for participation in sport competition that is developmentally appropriate and specific for people with disabilities.

"Some of New Albany's residents with special needs currently have to travel to other local communities to fulfill the desire to participate in sports programming. Having a Special Olympics program within New Albany will allow residents with disabilities the opportunity to participate and compete in sports within the community where they live."

Thomas concurs.

"To have a local team can be the pride of a small town, plus it's more convenient getting to practices and stuff," she said.

The Ohio Special Olympics office has accredited the New Albany team and Thomas said she has 15 athletes already lined up. She also has about 50 volunteers to help train for events, coach, provide community outreach for the group, complete accounting and necessary financial reporting and help raise funds for the team.

"It's amazing how many responses we've had so far," Thomas said.

She said Ward promoted the team to teachers and a flyer was sent out to students in the district's special education classes. The group also is working with New Albany Special Connections, a nonprofit organization formed in 2002 "dedicated to serving the population of children with special education needs from preschool through high school and their families" within the district," according to its website.

"People with disabilities often have more leisure time then their non-disabled peers," Ward said. "Having a local Special Olympics program in New Albany is an opportunity for adults and children with disabilities to fill this leisure time in a way that helps them develop a variety of skills in an authentic setting."

New Albany Special Olympics is a nonprofit tax-exempt organization. Thomas said she has approached only one local organization to talk about donations: the New Albany Women's Network (NAWN).

"We will need donations to help with equipment and entrance fees for state events," she said.

The first state event is slated for June 24 to June 26 at The Ohio State University's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium and could cost the team up to $2,000. Thomas said that fees are $140 per athlete or coach and one coach is required for every three athletes.

"Initially, coaches and volunteers can make do with equipment from their own garage," Thomas said.

She said she would likely begin raising funds for equipment and fees for fall events, such as bowling and soccer.

Thomas also has scheduled several local events that will not require entrance fees. Those include the Area 6 Regional at Denison University on May 1; the Columbus Classic at Whetstone High School on May 7; the Amanda-Clearcreek Special Olympics event May 14; the Delaware Invitational on June 4; and a dual meet at Westerville Central High School on June 8.

"It's fun for them and it gives them a chance to be part of a team," Thomas said. "Special Olympics gives people with a disability a chance to be part of a team, to get involved in the community, and most importantly, to have fun while exercising."

Ward said being part of a local team "can help them (the participants) develop confidence and pride knowing that they live in a community that cares by providing opportunities specific for people with disabilities."

Thomas said she hopes to get the team involved in other local events, such as the Founders Day and Fourth of July parades.

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