By Dawn Hatfield
DARKE COUNTY — Darke County Special Olympics Track and Field Day welcomed back hundreds of school-aged special needs athletes from surrounding Darke County schools. Student athletes, numerous volunteers and awards presenters, as well as countless spectators gathered at The Jennings Center Track and Field Complex next to Greenville High School on Friday, May 13, to participate in the 44th year of the annual event.
The day was beautiful, if not down-right hot, with the sun shining brightly and the occasional breeze helping to cool down the hard-working athletes. Welcoming hundreds back to Darke County Special Olympics this May was made even more meaningful given recent history. Athletes were able to gather together again after considerable COVID precautions limited the events in 2021. Spectators had been unable to attend last spring, but the kids were able to enjoy some sporting normalcy in during a very atypical year.
The Darke County Special Olympics, founded in 1978, began with Sue Wilson as its original director. According to Greenville City School Teacher and current Darke County Special Olympics Director of more than two decades, Cindy Rose, it started with about eight athletes who participated in a track and field event in Dayton, Ohio. The following year, the first Darke County Special Olympics Track and Field event took place locally.
Rose attributes the program’s success and longevity to the community support and organizational support, such as the local schools, the YMCA, Person Centered Services, Inc., and the Darke County Board of Developmental Disabilities connections, to name a few.
In addition to the community collaboration, Rose said she enjoys seeing the connections between the athletes. Some of them are life-long. “Our athletes representing Darke County are truly family and have that connection,” Rose was quoted in 2018. “In addition, when we do activities that compete against other counties, and we do it year after year, they develop friendships. Even into adulthood, some of them still choose to participate, and enjoy seeing the athletes they know.”
The Darke County Special Olympics programs include basketball, adult cheerleading, swimming, track and field, softball, bowling, weightlifting/power lifting, as well as unified golf, which pairs athletes in teams of two, with and without disabilities.
Unified golf and softball participated at local and state level events in the fall of 2021. For the second year, a regional golf tournament qualifier was hosted at Beechwood Golf Course. Currently, basketball is being conducted on a local level only with hopes to get back to a typical competitive schedule next season.
Rose said she would not volunteer her time if she did not enjoy her involvement with Darke County Special Olympics. She added that Darke County stands out from the rest. Rose said in a previous news article, “We operate on all volunteers and donations. It’s community, bottom line, that makes this possible… I try to tell people, it is just not like that in every county. It goes to show what Darke County is really like.”
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.