Special Olympics Sarnia held its second annual invitational basketball tournament at Lambton College over the weekend, featuring teams from LaSalle, Windsor, Brantford and St. Thomas.
And while the tournament is just for fun, community coordinator Tana Manchester says without events like these, qualifying for provincial or national games isn’t possible.
“With Special Olympics, we are in a four-year cycle just like the typical Olympics. So, we are not in a qualifying year this year, but in order for teams to go to qualifying tournaments, they need to play in community tournaments in the years prior.”
Manchester says the purpose of these events is to show the athletes are training and competing year after year, and are committed to their sport.
It also gives the athletes an opportunity to meet new friends and see old ones; everyone gets to know each other and grow their social connections, something Manchester acknowledges.
“We are a sports organization first and foremost, but we also promote social connection and social opportunities for our athletes,” she told the Journal.
“Since we started in 2017, not only have I seen these athletes increase in their athletic abilities, but the friendships that have been formed with the athletes and the parents as well.”
Events like these are not possible without a team of volunteers, something Manchester says she is grateful for.
“It is absolutely a lot of work,” she said after the event. “However, it doesn’t feel like a lot of work, and we had a lot of people volunteer to help us. So that makes my job easier organizing the event, having dependable volunteers that I can rely on, it’s good all around.”
Special Olympics Sarnia is entirely volunteer-based and does not receive any government funding, so Manchester says she is also thankful for the organizations locally that help out.
“We are very thankful and grateful for that for sure, and we love that the community supports our fundraising efforts as well,” she says. “So any money raised here is raised by our volunteers, as well as, we have lots of local service clubs that donate on a yearly basis,” she said, pointing to a $10,000 grant from Sting Assists last year.
One of those organizations that had members on hand for the tournament, was the Ontario Provincial Police. Manchester says Special Olympics Ontario is the only charity the OPP are involved with, and locally show their support at every opportunity.
“We are lucky to have so many local law enforcement that support our community programs and events,” she said. “They always want to know when we are doing events; they like to be here and show their support, and they also do fundraisers for special olympics Ontario throughout the year.”
In fact, Manchester says the OPP will be doing a Polar Plunge February 10 at the Lambton College to help raise money for Special Olympics Ontario.
“Any of our athletes or volunteers that participate in the event — that money will stay right here locally in Sarnia — everyone else who participates, that money will go to Special Olympics Ontario.”
It’s events like these though that Manchester says are the most fun, not just for the athletes but the volunteers as well.
“They love the opportunity to have these games for them, and that’s what we want for them, we want them to have competitive opportunities.”
She adds they are always looking for volunteers to help out with the various programs.
“I’m always open to starting more teams, we do have nine teams right now, but I am game to start up other programs as well, if anyone is interested in volunteering and has a background in any of these sports, definitely reach out.”
For those interested in volunteering, donating or perhaps looking to help start another team, check out Special Olympics Sarnia’s Facebook page, or visit their website https://sarnia.specialolympicsontario.ca/ for more information.