By ROB W. ANDERSON
Special Olympics began as a way to allow young people with intellectual or physical disabilities to compete in the world of sports.
Created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the 1960s, Special Olympics has since helped create a world in which any girl or boy living with special needs can become a gold medal athlete. In April, the Tahlequah Public Schools Special Services Department will be taking 30 to 35 athletes to an area meet at the Muskogee Indian Bowl.
Coaches and TPS Special Education teachers Marjie Dowling and Ruth Poteete help their students become successful in the classroom, as well as on the field of competition, but the TPS Special Services Department needs help funding its Special Olympics endeavors.
The TPS Special Olympics team does not receive school funding for contests like the April event in Muskogee. There is no booster club, and the main source of income comes from private donations and fundraisers, according to the TPSSO Faithful Fan letter the team disperses.
As the TPSSO team accepts donations, it also receives marketing and promotion help from the Northeastern State University Media Campaigns and Events class, which organizes and works events to raise money for TPSSO athletes. Previous experiences with TPSSO led members of the NSU class to focus their efforts this semester on helping the local athletes, said Josh Maxwell, who’s enrolled in the class.
“We discussed organizations from around the community and realized the class had a history with Tahlequah Public Schools Special Olympics,” he said. “[We] felt we should continue the efforts previous students made in supporting TPSSO.”
The next fundraiser will be a donations collection event Saturday, April 13, at the NSU softball/baseball doubleheader.
“[It will be] much like we did at the Farewell to Jack Dobbins Fieldhouse [event held recently],” said Maxwell. “We will also have a drawing for prizes during the games.”
Dowling said the TPSSO team will travel to Stillwater in May for a multi-day competition. All fundraising money generated by scheduled events or donations are appreciated.
“We travel to the OSU campus [in May], where we compete on the state level and stay in dorms for three days. Room-and-board is a large portion of our expenses,” she said. “We provide two Tahlequah Tiger T-shirts, a hoodie, tennis shoes, toiletries and bedding for the three-day stay, and even [provide] a little pocket money for a treat at the convenience store. We greatly appreciate any support, so our program can continue serving the needs of special athletes [and allow] them the opportunity to participate and proudly represent Tahlequah Public Schools.”
The team’s biggest fundraising event takes place during the annual Red Fern Festival, said Maxwell.
“There has been a wonderful outpouring of support from the community and the surrounding area. The Tahlequah [Area] Chamber of Commerce has donated vendor space for us to setup a dunk tank, and the dunk tank comes to us from the City of Wagoner. They are lending it to us free of charge,” he said. “We also have several prominent members from the community who have already volunteered to be ‘dunkees,’ including Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols, NSU Campus Police Investigator Preston Flores, NSU [Head] Football Coach Kenneth Evans, NAB Coordinator of Campus Activities Sarah Johnson and Miss NSU Katie Bowin. We are still asking for volunteers, too.”
Poteete said preparation for the competitions and the fundraising is hard work, and everyone involved considers the efforts a blessing and privilege.
“We have so many faithful fans who make all this possible,” said Poteete. Without the fundraisers and private donations, we could not provide this great experience for our athletes. The Special Olympic Oath sums it up: ‘Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ How rewarding it is to coach athletes who take that oath very seriously.”
For more information or to make a donation to the TPSSO team, contact Poteete or Dowling at (918) 458-4150, Ext. 1182 or search “Tahlequah Schools Special Olympics” on Facebook. As for the dunk tank, anyone can sign up at http://bit.ly/ TQSO-Dunk-Tank.