After three years off, some Forsyth County athletes are ready to hit the field.
Officials with Special Olympics Forsyth County said after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization will once again host summer games for flag football, aquatics and athletics, which will largely include track and field events.
When asked how athletes, coaches, families and volunteers were feeling about the return, Randall Blue, SOFC’s public relations chair, said everyone was “chomping at the bit” to get back.
“They’re raring to go,” Blue said. “They can’t wait. I’ve had a number of parents reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, are you coaching track?’ ‘Are you doing this,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I am. We can’t wait. Look forward to seeing you.’”
With the outbreak of COVID-19, the summer games were canceled in 2020 and 2021 before Special Olympics Georgia reopened them last year, though the local organization opted not to compete at the time.
Linda Fitzpatrick, local coordinator for SOFC, said last year’s games included restrictions like mask mandates and limits on spectators, which have been lifted for this year.
“Those are all lifted, and we are now moving full steam ahead,” she said. “I think that a lot of our coaches and volunteers are rested, because what we do is on a volunteer basis, and while it was a tragic situation, I think it provided some rest and rejuvenation for the people that run our program and volunteer.”
Though Special Olympics has not been able to hold games, Fitzpatrick credited the therapeutic programs through Forsyth County Parks and Recreation for holding events for their athletes in recent years, which she said “was a blessing to us because we had different guidelines to follow than the community. “
“It allowed Special Olympics Forsyth County to expand our partnership with the therapeutic program in Forsyth County, and they began hosting sporting activities and social activities that we could kind of transfer and promote our athletes to go participate,” Fitzpatrick said.
“So, instead of sitting at home and idle and isolated, working with the Forsyth County therapeutic program, we were able to work with them.”
Fitzpatrick said the partnership also allowed those who only competed in SOFC or only took part in the therapeutic programs to find out about the other.
“I think that was just a great blessing that came out of all of this,” Fitzpatrick said, “that both of our programs were able to work together, we were able to complement each other and both of our programs will expand and grow and learn from that.”
While this will be the first time back at the summer games, SOFC did host basketball, basketball skills, powerlifting and bowling as part of a limited winter games last year.
Fitzpatrick said participation in the winter games was down compared to previous years, but the summer games were looking to rebound.
“We had a total of 75-80, including coaches and everybody, that participated in the winter games,” she said. “We typically have close to 125-150 participating in the games, but that was the first time that we have assembled in three years.”
She said more than 100 athletes, coaches and unified partners, those who team up with the athletes during competitions, had already signed up for the summer.
To get ready for the summer games, the organization will hold a kickoff meeting on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m. at Central Park’s banquet room, 2300 Keith Bridge Road, and will host a Texas Hold’em Tournament fundraiser at Stars and Strikes, located at 133 Merchants Square, on Saturday, March 11.
Fitzpatrick said those interested in volunteering or getting athletes involved can go to SOForsyth.com for more information or to give input on new sports for athletes.
“We would like to expand some of our sports, maybe for 2024. I know, in particular, table tennis is of interest, cheerleading is of interest to our athletes,” she said. “We go through a process to determine which sports to add, but we’re always looking to see if people have a specific talent and would like to see about coaching and joining the program to help. We’re always open to helping hands.”