Special Olympics to feature range of sports, ages

Gina Furlin, Contributing Writer

Eastern will host its 39th Special Olympics from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday at O’Brien Stadium.

This year, there will be approximately 700 Eastern volunteers, along with 60 key volunteers made up of faculty and other Charleston residents.

Vanessa Duncan, Area 9 Director, has run this event for four years. Area 9 includes 12 counties in east central Illinois.

Although the deadline for volunteer forms was April 15, if students stop by the special education office in Buzzard Hall Room 1212 to fill out and turn in a form, Duncan said they will still accept them. There will also be a registration table at the event for people who decide they want to volunteer the day of Special Olympics.

The participants range from ages 8 to 81, making a total of 512 athletes competing in the games this year.

Some of the events the athletes will be participating in on the track include runs, walks and wheelchair slaloms. Field events such as the mini-javelin, tennis ball throw and high jump will also take place.

Duncan said her favorite part of Special Olympics is how happy the athletes and their families are for the day.

“When you’re there, you see those smiling faces, they will want to high-five you. You can feel the energy come off of them, how excited they are to be there,” she said.

Every year, a few awards are given out, and another award will be added for the first time. This award is titled the Midge McDowell Lifetime Service Award in memory of Midge McDowell for beginning the Special Olympics Illinois program.

Kathlene Shank, department chair of special education, will receive this award during this year’s Special Olympics opening ceremony at 9 a.m. In order to be nominated for this award, she had to meet specific criteria indicating the length of service she has put into Special Olympics.

The criteria were that she had to volunteer for Special Olympics Illinois events for at least 20 years, along with volunteering for the Special Olympics Family Festival and attending it for more than four years.

She also had to serve as a Special Olympics coach volunteer, a key volunteer at an event or serve on an event committee.

Gina Furlin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].