DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — It’s just another basketball practice. Coaches put groups of student-athletes through various drills on different parts of the court.
Coach Devin Wuest works with a group near the basket on the south side of the court. Gavin Smith goes over some dribbling drills with several more athletes at the mid-court area, while another coach puts his group through a series of offensive drills. The athletes — boys and girls — dribble, pass and shoot just like thousands of other basketball players across Texas do every day.
And that’s what these youth are: student-athletes.
“That’s one of the best things about the Special Olympics, other kids get the chance to participate in (University Interscholastic League) activities, so why shouldn’t these students?” Wuest said. Wuest is the Marble Falls Independent School District’s Head of Delegation for the Special Olympics. She’s the equivalent to a head coach/athletic director for the MFISD program along with having her regular teaching duties in the Marble Falls High School Life Skills program.
Unlike other high school athletes, who get lots of attention, the Special Olympians often train and compete with little fanfare. But they don’t seem to mind. Instead, they pull for each other.
MFISD offers the Special Olympics program to Life Skills and special-needs students ages 12 to 22 (a special-needs student can attend MFISD programs through 22 years.) But Wuest pointed out that Special Olympics athletes can be as young as 12 and as old as 99 or even older.
Currently, MFISD Special Olympics athletes compete in swimming, basketball, bowling and track-and-field.
The student-athletes are in the bowling and basketball seasons right now with track-and-field not far off.
Wuest said, like other students, the Special Olympians learn many of the same lessons and experience similar benefits.
“One thing, I think, everybody can benefit from is being physically active. And it’s the same for these students,” she said. “If they can get in the habit of being active, it does so much for them now and as they get older.”
The youth also learn about the value of competition as well as the importance of teamwork, perseverance and hard work.
“Everything you think athletes learn, so do these students,” Wuest said.
And there is competition. The 2014 Special Olympics of Texas Winter Games are Jan. 30-Feb. 2 at various venues in Austin. MFISD is sending a contingent to compete in bowling.
This year’s preparation for bowling has been more challenging than previous years. The bowling alley in Marble Falls recently closed, forcing Wuest, the other coaches and the athletes to travel to Fredericksburg to practice. But because of the increase in travel costs, the team will only get about four bowling practices under their belts before the state games.
Fortunately, basketball practice isn’t as difficult. The group practices in the gym at First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls.
They’re practicing for the Feb. 28-March 1 Special Olympics Texas-Central Texas Area Basketball Competition at the Jowers Center at Texas State University in San Marcos.
“And that’s such a great opportunity that they get to go and play at a university,” Wuest said.
In the spring, their attention will turn to track-and-field. And the MFISD program is again hosting the Mustang Round Up meet April 4 at Mustang Stadium. The event draws hundreds of Special Olympic athletes from across the area.
The program is looking for volunteers and sponsors to help with the track-and-field meet.
While the competitions are nice, a lot of the lessons get learned in regular practices.
“I think one of the biggest lessons they can learn is to always strive to do your best,” Wuest said. “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s about the bravery attempting to do something. And they do work very hard.”
The Special Olympic athletes aren’t the only ones who learn something through the program. Spectators or somebody hearing about these student-athletes could garner a lesson or two. Wuest has an idea of what she thinks people could learn from Special Olympians.
“I think bravery. That would be one thing people could learn from these students,” Wuest said. “Spectators who come and watch, they’ll see athletes putting out so much effort. They have such perseverance. But to see their faces when they win that award, get the medal or ribbon, then you’ll see what true joy is.”
For information on volunteering or sponsoring the Marble Falls Round Up or the Special Olympics in general, email Wuest at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.sotx.org for information on the Special Olympics of Texas.