Special Olympics programs offered for all ages, yuma, special, ball
When a new family moved to Yuma in 1974, they discovered there were no sports leagues in town for their son with Down syndrome to be a part of. It was then that they decided to start a Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) Yuma group to offer sports such as basketball, swimming, bowling and track and field to those with special needs.
Since that time, SOAZ Yuma has expanded its offerings to include power lifting, tennis, bocce and golf, with hopes of including cheerleading, soccer and softball in the near future.
Lisa Ball, River Area director of SOAZ Yuma, explained that they are looking to continue to grow their children’s program in the local area to expand their offerings to students with disabilities, giving them the chance to participate in various sporting events while also providing a support system for families.
Children 2½ to 6 years of age are eligible to participate in Special Olympics activities as well as school- or community-based programs.
“Currently we have nine elementary schools doing the young athletes programs,” she said. “Once the teacher has received the young athletes program training, they will receive a $200 kit of different play items that the children will be able to use in the classroom. Almost the entire program can be used in the child’s individualized education program or IEP.”
Ball said the young athletes are supported in learning the building blocks of physical acquisition such as walking, running, jumping, catching and throwing. She explained that by developing these skills, there is a notable improvement in their motor skills, cognitive development, social emotional development, adaptive and communication skills.
Through their new unified sports program, they are planning to have more junior high and high school athletes with special needs paired with general education students during various sporting activities.
“We are getting into more and more schools into our new unified sports programs because we find that pairing an athlete up with a general education student is cutting down bullying significantly in the schools,” said Ball. “This also encourages unity within the school and helps promote a bonding with a group of students that may not otherwise have the chance to know one another… During the school day, the P.E. teacher or a classroom teacher can have the unified team practice a particular sport together and after eight practices, the unified team is able to come to any area meet to compete then they can qualify as a team to go to state games.”
Ball commented that while they have programs for students at the K-12 level, they also have programs for people with disabilities at any age. “We have athletes that have been with us for over 30 years.”
She did note, however, that athletes must be identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions to be a part of their programs: intellectual disability, a cognitive delay as determined by standardized measures such as intelligence quotient or other generally accepted measures, or a closely related development disability, i.e., functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills.
Ball said that if a parent is interested in enrolling a child in their programs, she encourages them to come to a sporting practice first to see if they would be interested in the sport.
SOAZ Yuma also offers free health screenings in areas including podiatry, physical therapy, better health and well-being, audiology, sports physical exams, vision and dentistry. Dr. Evan Short, owner of Arizona Family Dentistry, recruited a team of providers to offer screenings to those with special needs so they are not required to travel to Phoenix for special treatment.
With a total of over 300 athletes in Yuma and Mohave counties, Special Olympics of Arizona (SOAZ) Yuma is a nonprofit organization that fundraises in order to offer year-round sports to families free of charge.
With a staff made up mostly of volunteers, River Area director of SOAZ Yuma Lisa Ball noted that they are always looking for people to coach teams or volunteer their time with athletes.
“Special Olympics Arizona is made up of 90 percent volunteers and we thank them graciously. Without them, we wouldn’t be in existence … Since we are entering our new season, we are looking for coaches and volunteers for the following sports that begin in January: basketball, tennis, track and field and powerlifitng.”
Ball noted that volunteering with Special Olympics helps the athletes learn valuable, lifelong skills.
“Special Olympics Yuma assists citizens with intellectual disabilities to be a part of their community. It gets them up and moving … Sports training enhances focus and gives participants a structure for learning important lessons about perseverance, endurance and setting goals,” said Ball.
“It also provides opportunities to interact with other community citizens who have skills to offer and to teach. Special Olympics Yuma needs volunteers to maintain all the different program that are offered. Please come out, see what the athletes are accomplishing and be a much-needed part of a really fun group.”
Ball said that even if, say, a group of co-workers from a local business stopped by to volunteer for the day, it would make a world of difference. “It gives a great sense of giving back to the community and it promotes teamwork within their organization.”
She said business also have the opportunity to underwrite the expenses of one local competition this year, of which they will be having tennis, track and field, 3-on-3 basketball and regular basketball competitions.
“Each competition has different cost associated with it, basketball being the largest and tennis being the smallest,” Ball said. She noted that fundraising goes to pay costs for uniforms, equipment, transportation and other general operating fees.
“There are so many good and genuine causes out there. It is always hard to choose which one to give to,” said Linda Cook, who has two sons in the Special Olympics program in Yuma. “Our athletes’ cause is somewhat different than a lot of other causes because many of our athletes don’t have the voice to ask for anything. That’s when we as parents, coaches and volunteers have to advocate for our athletes which can prove to be a little more trying than if they could use their voices.”
Their next upcoming fundraiser is their 14th annual Golf Tournament to be held at the Cocopah RV and Golf Resort on March 9. Golfers are needed as well as people to sponsor different holes during the tournament.