Friday, May 13, 2011

York County Special Olympics Brings Athletes and Community Together

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
A very special annual event was held on the fields at Shapleigh School last week when approximately 400 participants took part in the York County Special Olympics Spring Games.
Special Olympians from throughout York County attended the annual event, the results of which are used to place participants in competitive divisions in the Maine Special Olympics Summer Games held each June in Orono.
The York County Games are the third largest in the state with only the games in Penobscot and Cumberland counties drawing larger fields, Mark Capano of Special Olympics said. There are 13 events held in the state each year.
The athletes take part in track and field events including a special division for athletes using wheelchairs and other devices.
There were, Capano said, 26 teams included in this year’s field. The numbers of athletes and teams, he said, are about the same as last year.
Dennis Dean of Kittery, the event manager from 1992 until this year, said the event “has grown a lot” over the years. He said there were 100 or 150 athletes involved when the event was initiated in the late 1980s.
Dean said this year “seemed like time to make the transition” but stayed on to help Capano. He said there was “no special reason” for stepping down. “It just felt like the right time to do it.”
There were, this year, well over 100 volunteers on hand to assist in the games. These included student athletes from Traip Academy in Kittery who ran the track and field events. “They did an exceptional job,” Capano said.
The event was held in Wells for its first two years but then it was moved to Kittery. Dean immediately contacted Traip Athletic Director Al Young and the involvement of the school’s track team began.
Community involvement in the games is high, he said. Organizations involved include the Knights of Columbus, York Hospital and Kittery Rotary.
Capano said that more than 30 workers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were also involved to “set up and break down” for the day’s activities.
A large number of York County law enforcement officers were also involved, he said. These included the York County Sheriff’s Department, Berwick, North Berwick, York, Kittery and Wells police departments.
The large number of volunteers also included people from First Congregational Church of Kittery Point and the Kittery Public Works and Recreation Departments.
Athletes compete for ribbons in each event, with the top six finishers winning ribbons.
Special Olympics, founded in 1968, is the largest sports organization in the world for children and adults with special needs. The program includes millions of athletes in 175 countries.
According to its web site, the Special Olympics hopes to “give them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in sharing of gifts, skills and friendship.”
Photo caption: Officer Candice Noble and Officer Michael Grogan from the Eliot Police Department help award and congratulate young participants in the York County Special Olympics ceremonies on May 5. (Photo courtesy Officer Candice Noble)