By Rick Palsgrove
The annual Special Olympics Ohio Summer Games will not be held this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Summer Games is cancelled for this year,” wrote Special Olympics Ohio South Central Regional Manager John Esson in a message to Special Olympics members. “I think most of us knew this was coming.”
Esson added the regional qualifiers are also cancelled this year, including meets at Whetstone, Watkins, Rio Grande, and Ohio University.
“We remain positive, can see the light, and know this COVID-19 world won’t last forever,” wrote Special Olympics Ohio President and CEO Jessica Stewart in a message to Special Olympics members. “We know returning to full activities will take time and won’t happen overnight. We will continue to put the safety and health of our athletes first. Aligned with our Special Olympics Ohio Health Initiatives, the overall well being of our athletes continues to be a priority for us.”
According to Penny Hilty, coordinator of Groveport Special Olympics, the State Summer Games 2021 had been set for June 25-27 on the campus of The Ohio State University, mainly at Jesse Owens Stadium, but other venues as well.
“We believe, and hope, that Summer Games will be held in 2022 at OSU as usual,” said Hilty. “Here at Groveport Special Olympics we are looking ahead to having bowling begin in August at Wayne Webb Bowl on South High Street. We would also like to begin swimming in September at the Groveport Recreation Center. We remain hopeful that things will soon get back to a more normal schedule.”
Stewart’s message noted that multiple conversations about the issue were held with the Board of Directors, Special Olympics Ohio Medical Director, The Ohio State University leadership, State Staff, athletes, and the Return to Play COVID Committee made up of leadership from our local organizations. A survey was sent to the local organizations to explore their feelings on Summer Games and Return to Play intentions for community-based activities.
“These conversations were incredibly valuable and truly insightful,” wrote Stewart. “We truly thought we would be further out, leaving this pandemic as a memory and snapshot in history,” wrote Stewart. “Unfortunately, we just aren’t there yet. There are multiple factors at play in this decision, but the safety of our athletes is our utmost priority. Although I know the disappointment of our athletes, yet again, is unbearable, we simply cannot safely hold our Summer Games event in 2021. We must proceed with caution and protect the next six months to hopefully be back to state-level competition in the fall. That is our sincere hope.”
Stewart said the organization will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and make decisions as soon as when it can.
Heather Coffenberry of Obetz, whose sister participates as an athlete in Special Olympics, expressed disappointment that the Special Olympics Ohio Summer Games will not be held.
“My sister is devastated,” said Coffenberry. “This is two years in a row it has been cancelled. Why did they decide to cancel the event so early this year when it was not scheduled to be held until June? High schools are planning to hold proms and graduations and other things are re-opening. Our athletes are not being given a chance to compete. Some of them have already received their vaccinations.”
Importance of Special Olympics
Hilty said Special Olympics is important to the athletes and their families.
“I am a parent of an athlete as well as the coordinator of the program,” said Hilty. “I think that the sense of belonging is very important to the athletes. They get a feeling of accomplishment during the different sports that we offer year round. Our program also has a very strong family feel to it. We all look out for each other and everyone cheers for all of the athletes. We also have several events throughout the year for the families that are not sports related that help to bring us together.”
Information about local Special Olympics
Special Olympics Ohio formed a local chapter in the Groveport/Canal Winchester area.
The mission of Special Olympics Ohio is to provide year round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic type sports for intellectually disabled individuals. For information contact local coordinators Penny and Cassandra Hilty at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (614) 395-8992 or 395-6640. Donations may be sent to Groveport Special Olympics, P.O. Box 296, Groveport, OH 43125.