Special Olympics Kansas returns to Hays on Saturday

BY RAEGAN NEUFELD

Founded nationally by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, the Special Olympics has the mission of providing “Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community,” as stated on ksso.org,

Special Olympics Kansas started later in 1970, and now for 46 years the state basketball and cheerleading competitions have been held in Hays. This year the games are taking place on Saturday for the first time in two years.

“This is our first good-sized event since [the pandemic]. It’s a little smaller. Usually, we’ll have two days of competition and an overnight stay for the athletes, but we’re only doing one day to get everyone back into the swing of things,” said Tim Rehder.

Rehder works for Special Olympics Kansas as the Senior Director of Competitions. He is in charge of the state competitions for all 22 sports offered by the organization.

“We’re a year-round organization,” Rehder said. “A lot of people think we just do basketball and track, but we also have smaller ones like bocce and tennis.”

There are 110 local programs or teams across the state of Kansas organized through counties or cities, parks and recreation departments, and group homes. Athletes range from children, starting at age eight, to adults. According to Rehder, any athlete can compete in any of the 22 sports as long as their local team offers it. Athletes compete in smaller tournaments at the regional level which qualifies them for the state tournament.

“We actually have two state tournaments, one in Topeka for the eastern half of the state and the western half of the state goes to Hays. We’ve been in Hays now for 43 plus years. We just recently split [the tournament] into two because we had so many athletes that were participating in basketball,” Rehder said.

The schedule on Saturday will begin at 10:00 a.m. with an opening ceremony at Gross Memorial Coliseum on the Fort Hays State University campus. Following will be the cheerleading team and individual skills competitions, also at GMC. Basketball competitions will then start at 11:30 a.m. using the main court in GMC, as well as the courts in Cunningham Hall and the Hays Recreation Center [HRC].

For Rehder, the event is not only a chance to show off cheerleading and basketball skills, but also a chance for everyone to see some familiar faces.

“It’s great that we’re able to offer some basketball, but also see a lot of faces that we haven’t in a couple years,” he said. “Especially for the athletes, they’ll see some of their friends from the other teams that they haven’t been able to compete against. I’m looking forward to that, but it’s just nice to get Special Olympics Kansas back up and running with some events.”

Those interested in helping with the games should visit the Special Olympics Kansas volunteer sign up page, and those interested and who have experience in officiating should contact Haley Nixon with the HRC.

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