Athletes await Special Olympics chapterStudents with special needs will have a new way to stay active and make new friends in 2012.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
Students with special needs will have a new way to stay active and make new friends in 2012.
A Special Olympics chapter is forming in New Richmond, thanks to the efforts of special services teachers in the school district.
Teachers Anthony Hartung and Cassandra Plante are the local agency co-managers. They are working with a team of six special services teachers in the district to get the Special Olympics chapter up and running.
Both Hartung and Plante, graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, were Special Olympics volunteers when they were in college.
“I’ve always loved watching the athletes succeed,” Hartung explained.
Plante said she was a student athlete herself while growing up, so it was only natural that she try to bring her two loves together – sports and working with students with special needs.
“It’s like the best of both worlds,” she said.
When they both were hired here as teachers, the organizational wheels started to turn. With support from Sue Curtis, director of special services, and the rest of the administrative team, the co-managers filled out the appropriate paper work to form a Special Olympics chapter and started to plan.
“We’ve spent countless hours trying to figure everything out,” Hartung said. “But now we see that some of our hard work is starting to pay off.”
The kick-off for the new chapter is Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Community Commons. A pancake breakfast will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to raise money for Special Olympics. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.
“We hope that all families who are interested in being a part of Special Olympics will come,” Hartung said. “And we hope that businesses will show up and that some will help sponsor us.”
Another fundraiser for Special Olympics will be from noon until 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, in Eau Claire. The “Toss Your Boss” competition will be part of the annual Polar Plunge event in that city.
A number of administrators from the New Richmond School District have agreed to participate. The local chapter hopes to raise $3,500 in donations. If their goal is met, the administrators have agreed to plunge into a hole in the frozen ice all for Special Olympics.
“They (the administrators) are having fun with it,” Hartung said with a smile.
Once the funds are raised, Special Olympics New Richmond Area, in cooperation with New Richmond Community Education, will offer two sports teams in the spring – Basketball Skills and Basketball Skills II. The hope is to eventually form a local basketball team that will compete in various tournaments across the region and state.
For the summer, plans are to form a Track and Field team. The fall sports will be bowling and flag football. Next winter, organizers hope to offer cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Each sports season runs for several weeks, with a minimum of eight practices, Plante explained.
“Every season ends with a competition,” Plante noted. “There will be regionals, sectionals and state games, just like the regular athletes.”
Participating in Special Olympics programs not only help the athletes get exercise, Hartung noted, it helps each student develop friendships, improve interpersonal skills and teach them the importance of sportsmanship.
Special Olympics is open to athletes 8 years of age or older. The athlete must have been identified as having a cognitive disability or cognitive delay, or a developmental disability with functional limitations.
According to the co-managers, participation in the local chapter will mostly be open to students in the New Richmond, Amery, Osceola, St. Croix Central and Somerset school districts.
Right now, the closest Special Olympics chapters are in Stillwater, Minn. and River Falls, and the distance makes it difficult for many local athletes to take part in Special Olympics.
“It keeps a lot of our kids from competing,” Plante said. “They’ve had to travel a long way to be involved.”
Athletes will be charged a minimal fee to participate in the local Special Olympics chapter. Hartung said the organization hopes to raise some funds in order to offer scholarships to families who may not be able to afford the participation fee.
The local chapter will provide local residents a chance to volunteer with Special Olympics. The organization is in need of team coaches, event volunteers and financial donors.
“We are a volunteer organization,” Hartung said. “And the more volunteers we get, the less there will be for each of us to do.”
Anyone wanting to volunteer or donate is invited to contact Hartung at 715-243-1525 or anthonyh@newric hmond.k12.wi.us or Plante at 715-243-1556 or cassa firstname.lastname@example.org.