Coordinators of Special Olympics programs that serve Venango, Forest and Clarion counties say they need more volunteers to help with events and give athletes a chance to compete.
Special Olympics is an international program that offers 22 sports and is open to people ages 8 and up who have intellectual disabilities. These special athletes compete in those sports free of charge to them and their families.
The Venango and Forest county program currently offers aquatics, track and field, softball and bowling.
In Clarion County, the Special Olympics program currently offers bocce, basketball and volleyball.
Both programs are looking for coaches, assistant coaches and chaperones, and they also need helpers to serve on committees and do clerical work, said Jim Binz, the western field director and interim program manager for Clarion County.
Binz said coaches are trained and don’t need previous experience playing a sport.
Practices last between eight and 10 weeks with one or two one-hour practices a week before the athletes are allowed to compete.
Lineman described the Pennsylvania Summer Games as “what sports should be.” Lineman and Binz say the competition is fierce yet the competitors are friends.
She also said the athletes are more willing to try new things because they see friends and people participating who they trust.
A goal of the games is to connect athletes with their families and caregivers who come to cheer them on as well as give the athletes who compete a sense of self-esteem, Binz said.
Binz said about 165 athletes participate in the the Clarion County program. He said Clarion County has about 1,200 people with intellectual disabilities who would be eligible.
Pennsylvania has set a ratio of one trained volunteer to four athletes, so the number of athletes able to participate and compete at events is directly dependent on the number of volunteers who help out, Binz said.
“The hardest thing is to tell an athlete there are not enough volunteers for them to be able to go to sectionals (a yearly competition at Penn State),” said Lineman. “There are a lot of tears…it happens yearly.”
Lineman and Binz estimated that if each program had 20 or 30 more volunteers they could double the number of athletes who could go to competitions.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering at Special Olympics programs in Venango, Clarion and Forest counties can go to www.specialolympicspa.org or call the Western Pennsylvania office at (724) 375-7515.