Turn to the sports section of any local newspaper and you’re likely to find coverage of community high school teams. These stories highlight wins and downplay losses.
Occasionally, a story will focus on an athlete who excels in their sport. These athletes are considered special among their friends, family and peers.
But there is another group of athletes who are no less special and deserve no less praise or recognition. These particular athletes have not only learned skills to help them compete…they have made invaluable personal strides.
These strides might otherwise elude them if it weren’t for an incredible organization.
The Special Olympics is a program that gives the developmentally disabled a chance to achieve goals and develop self-esteem and confidence that will stay with them for life.
The Verde Valley chapter of the Special Olympics is no exception.
Camp Verde Parks and Recreation and Camp Verde Unified Schools are co-sponsors of the local program. It runs year-round and is dedicated to providing sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with developmental disabilities.
There are currently 63 area participants, ranging in age from 8 to over 50.
Matt Hrmoda, recreation supervisor for CV Parks & Recreation, serves as one of two Heads of Delegations for the local chapter. Barb Barber holds the other seat, and is tireless in her efforts to promote the program.
“I would say that the main goal of Special Olympics is to give activities that can help the mentally handicapped exhibit their talents,” Barber said. “And to feel pride in their extracurricular activities.”
Arizona boasts more than 7,000 Special Olympians statewide, which help to make up over 1 million delegates worldwide.
It is through donations of dollars and time that athletes are able to compete in a variety of sports. The Special Olympics is a non-profit organization that relies on monetary contributions from local businesses and the public.
Phoenix Cement, for example, recently donated $1,500 to the basketball program in the Verde Valley.
Volunteers are also vital to keep the program going. These volunteers are needed to assist as coaches, assistant coaches, and help in fund-raisers in order to keep the year-round sports activities going.
The Verde Valley program currently offers swimming, golf, softball, bowling, floor hockey, basketball, tennis, track and field and gymnastics.
This past month, an elite group of rhythmic and artistic gymnasts traveled to Payson for a competition. This same group will participate in the state games in Tucson in March.
Barber highlighted four gymnasts who recently competed in Payson as examples of continuing success stories.
“Paige Buysse is a Camp Verde artistic gymnast who has made great strides in her self-confidence,” Barber said. “She has overcome her fear of heights and her fear of being in new places and new situations. She has also gained an increase trust in herself and others.
“Alecia Fringer is another Camp Verde athlete. She is naturally extremely shy, but through rhythmic gymnastics she has exhibited such growth and courage. She performs her routines independently and wins lots of gold medals in this sport.
“Karen Videll is a Sedona resident,” Barber continued. “In her first year in gymnastics, Karen is demonstrating an improvement in grace and coordination, as well as memory.
“Dixie Harbeson is a student at Camp Verde High School and is also in her first year of gymnastics. She has made great improvement in remembering the complicated routines.”
Barber went on to stress how important community involvement and participation is for these athletes.
“I’d really like people to know that we really do need funds and volunteers,” she said. “We are self-operating. We also really encourage people who have children who are disabled to find out more about the program. We are trying to build the younger children’s programs.”
The cost of participation for athletes? Free.
The reward? Priceless.
For more information on Special Olympics in the Verde Valley, contact Matt Hrmoda at 567-0535 or Barb Barber at 567-8068. Or visit www.cvaz.org and click on Parks & Recreation.