By: Kevan Nitzberg
Parent Member on the Hammer Board
Public Advocacy Committee Member
As a teacher at the high school level I know how sports can help to build community, self-worth, and leadership for the participants as well as the fans. My wife and I have seen how important sports have been to our son Travis, as he went through school as a participant in adapted softball. We also saw his passion while cheering on the various football and basketball teams we attend with him when he was a student at Buffalo High School and a fervent fan of the Buffalo Bisons. Now as an adult Travis and his housemates at Hammer have been taking part in the Special Olympic events.
Special Olympics Minnesota was founded in 1973 as part of the parent organization. It got its start back in the 1950s and 1960s, as a result of the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started a summer day camp for children with intellectual challenges that grew to become the foundation for the Special Olympics. In Minnesota there are more than 7,800 Special Olympics athletes currently taking part in the 92 competitions that Special Olympics Minnesota hosts, with a supporting staff of over 7,000 volunteer coaches.
Beyond the actual opportunities to engage in sports, there are a variety of programs that Special Olympics provides. They include the Athlete Leadership Programs, Healthy Athletes, Healthy Communities, Young Athletes Programs, R-Word Campaign, Youth Activation Committee, Special Olympics Unified Sports, and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Learn more about the Special Olympics:
Special Olympics events have played a big role in our son’s life, as well as about 200 people that Hammer serves who are involved in Special Olympics Minnesota. Our son’s most recent involvement in Special Olympics was a bowling event that took place at the Brunswick Zone in Brooklyn Center.
Whether able to throw the ball independently or using assistive devices to help with the trajectory of the ball on its way down the alley, each participant was excited, engaged and rooted for one another over the weeks that the games took place. On the final Sunday of the games each of the players received medals based on their cumulative scores, and every player was honored at the individual team ceremonies.
The culminating event was a lasagna dinner at Richfield High School held for all the bowlers, the staff, and the families of the athletes. Afterwards, the Richfield Lions, who help to support Special Olympics Minnesota, had a special Color Guard presentation in the Richfield High School auditorium followed by a very entertaining magic show and a dance.
One of the things that was most evident throughout the entire event was the incredible amount of socialization that took place among the bowlers in particular, regardless of what team they belonged to or what level of award that they received. There was an amazing sense of camaraderie and belonging that evening and that was truly heartwarming.