Special Olympics event in Marble Falls celebrates sport, instills confidence in athletes

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — Athletes from across Central Texas take to Mustang Stadium on April 5 for a celebration of sport.

“It just puts a smile on their faces,” said Gavin Smith, a Marble Falls Middle School teacher and Special Olympics coach. “They get so excited about, not so much the competition, but the event and just being part of it.”

The Marble Falls Independent School District Special Olympics track-and-field meet celebrates its third year when the first event starts at about 8 a.m. at Mustang Stadium, 2101 Mustang Drive. Smith said he expects about 155 Special Olympic athletes, ages 12 to 21, from 11 schools.

Marble Falls ISD has 16 athletes competing in the event.

Smith said the track-and-field events are basically the same ones in typical meets, with a few adjustments and additions.

“They don’t have any running events longer than 400 meters,” he said. “And there are several shorter races such as the 50-meter run and the 25-meter walk. And there are some special events for wheelchair athletes.”

In the field events, athletes have several of the traditional competitions such as the shot put, but there is also the softball throw.

“For those who can’t hold the softball, there’s a tennis ball toss,” Smith said. “The Special Olympics really tries to have an event for everybody.”

Marble Falls ISD students compete in swimming, bowling and basketball as well as track and field.

After the meet, the Marble Falls Special Olympians will prepare for the Region 13 Spring Games at Leander ISD’s Bible Stadium on May 3-4. Then it’s off to the 2013 Texas Summer Games at the University of Texas at Arlington on May 23-26.

“We’re taking all 16 of our kids (to both events),” Smith said. “It’s going to be exciting.”

While the Special Olympics create a place for these student-athletes to compete and participate in sports, Smith said he believes the benefits go beyond the track, court or pool. Many of the Marble Falls ISD special-needs students work jobs in the community.

“I would like to think the Special Olympics had something to do with that,” Smith said. “The Special Olympics give kids the confidence to go out into the workforce. It gives them a place to develop their people skills, where before, they might not have had that opportunity.”

The Marble Falls track-and-field meet started after Fredericksburg had to cancel its event because of a lack of funding from the school district. Smith said what makes the MFISD event more special is the district doesn’t pay for it, but the community does.

“Ours is funded by donations,” Smith said. “The community has been incredibly supportive.”

Admission is free to the Marble Falls meet, and the public is invited to come.

For more information on the Special Olympics, go to www.sotx.org or call Smith at (830) 693-4439.

daniel@thepicayune.com