The Saratoga Sun -

For the love of sport

Valley special olympians enthusiastically delve into competitions as they head to state


Joshua Wood

Michael Dugger shows off his medals and is looking forward to State competition.

Parents of student athletes will often take every chance they get to watch their children play. Some will attend every football game, basketball game or track meet to cheer them on and provide support. While competing in sports, student athletes will find themselves forging bonds with their competitors and creating lasting friendships.

This is, after all, one of the foundational beliefs of sportsmanship - that a sport can be enjoyed for the sake of the sport itself along with a sense of fellowship between competitors. The spirit of sportsmanship not only evident in events like Utah Jazz or high school sports, but in the Special Olympics, as well.

"It's just a wonderful experience to participate in Special Olympics because they're very happy, the athletes, and they love it. There's so much excitement and enthusiasm," said Sarah Johansson, an occupational therapist for Carbon County School District (CCSD) No. 2.

The excitement was evident when a reporter from the Saratoga Sun went to both Encampment K-12 Schools and Saratoga Elementary School two weeks ago. Michael Dugger, a senior at Encampment, was counting down the days, or sleeps, until the state competition starting on May 17 in Laramie. As of Wednesday, May 9, Dugger had eight sleeps until the summer games.

Dugger had competed in the Area Three summer games, held in Cheyenne, on May 26 and 27 and proudly presented his medals before the interview. According to Johansson, athletes must complete 10 hours of practice in the events in which they wish to participate. They also have to compete in the area games to be able to make it to state.

"A lot of our athletes don't have the opportunity to participate in activities at school, so I view it as this is their chance and their opportunity to participate in their special events," Johansson said.

Dugger is not the only athlete from CCSD No. 2, though. Along with the Encampment senior, three students from SES also competed in the area games and were attending the state competition. Logan Simmons, Daniel Purchase and Aiden Clarke all attend SES and competed in the Area Three summer games as well. Like Dugger, they were eager to show of their medals. Aiden Clarke not only wore the medals he had earned this year, but medals from the year before as well.

"The competition is really great, but there's so much more that these kids have an opportunity to do. We go out to eat so they have to order their own food, they develop friendships with the people they're competing with. I think it's good for the families that it showcases their child," said Carla Johnson, another occupational therapist for CCSD No. 2.

According to Johansson, the summer games include a variety of events ranging from aquatics to powerlifting and basketball skills. Along with these events, Special Olympics Wyoming also hosts the Athlete Leadership Program (ALP) which "allow athletes to explore opportunities for greater participation in our movement beyond sports training and competition: as coaches, officials, team captains, spokespeople, committee and Board members."

Joshua Wood

From left, Logan Simmons, Daniel Purchase and Aiden Clarke were all excited to show their medals and to travel to Laramie for the State games.

"It's a great program and they have the leaderships programs also so the athletes can go on to boards and recommend if they want a certain event," Johnson said.

One of the events being proposed for future olympics games? Dance. This goes in line with the one of the goals of the ALP, which states on the Special OIympics Wyoming website, "Athlete Leadership Programs also provide a way for athletes to showcase talents and interests that may have gone unnoticed."

Both Johansson and Johnson told the Saratoga Sun that much of this wouldn't be possible without Deb Riker, CCSD No. 2 special education director. Riker applies for grants on a regular basis that not only pay for trips and hotel stays, but also pay for uniforms for the athletes and mileage for family members to attend the events.

When Johansson asked Dugger if he was excited for Special Olympics, his reply was only one, enthusiastic, word.



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