February flew by, marking the most active stretch of our winter season. Special Olympics Maryland athletes competed in state championships in Interscholastic Unified Sports (IUS) Strength & Conditioning, IUS Indoor Bocce, and Winter Games; Basketball season is underway; 650 supporters took the ‘Dunk;’ athletes are preparing to travel to Austria for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games; and so much more.
On February 7th, 213 student-athletes from 14 schools competed in the IUS Strength and Conditioning State Championship at Chesapeake Community College. Seven IUS Indoor Bocce district tournaments were held from which winning teams advanced to the state championship. In all, 32 teams made up of Special Olympics athletes and their non-Special Olympics teammates competed in the IUS Indoor Bocce State Championship at Hagerstown Community College on February 22nd.
Basketball teams entered the heart of the season with games and qualifying tournaments on every weekend in February and will continue in March. Howard County is hosting weekly league play thanks to a great team of volunteers and the exceptional commitment from Glenelg Country School. Montgomery County, Calvert County and Anne Arundel County all hosted basketball qualifying tournaments in February. This run-up to our own version of March Madness includes more qualifying tournaments in Carroll County and Harford County along with league play continuing at Glenelg Country and Barrie School. The culminating event for basketball will feature over 700 athletes competing at our state tournament over two days on March 25th and 26th in Frederick. While athletes were taking to the hardwood, we also had athletes prepping for our Winter Games. Our athlete of the month (see in this issue) Corbin Swanger from Allegany competed in snowshoe. David Godoy from Montgomery County, another snowshoe athlete, conducted Corbin’s athlete of the month interview at snowshoe time trials.
The mild, snow-free February threatened our Winter Games, but thanks to the incredible team at Whitetail Resort, the Volunteer Games Management Team, and our Special Olympics Maryland staff, Winter Games were held on February 27th and 28th. Whitetail moved mountains (of snow) to ensure that over 120 athletes had the chance to compete in alpine skiing. They also groomed the snow tubing park to allow more than 85 athletes to compete in snowshoe races. A combined 44 Unified teammates joined athletes to compete in both sports. (See Games Photos in this issue.)
On February 25th, our friends at Pizzeria Uno and Honi Honi hosted the 19th Annual MSP/NRP Deep Creek Dunk. Thanks to support from the Maryland State Police and Natural Resources Police along with 650 “Dunkers,” we raised over $165,000.
Special Olympics enriches the lives of our 7,311 athletes on and off the field of play. On February 15th athletes and family members joined athletes from 38 other US Special Olympics programs to advocate for federal support through education and health at the annual Capitol Hill Day in Washington, DC. Michael Heup continues to demonstrate leadership as one of only ten athletes who will run as part of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg Team. He will carry the flame of hope throughout Austria for nine days prior to the Games raising awareness about the Special Olympics movement and Games. While there, Michael will take the “Schladming Plunge.” To date, Michael has raised over $13,000 – all proceeds of his effort will support programs here in Maryland. You can see his page here. Michael joins Toni Duncan, a Federal Officer in Baltimore who also will run as part of this international team. Toni personifies the exceptional year-round support from law enforcement throughout Maryland. You can learn more about her effort here.
Speaking of World Games, Patrick Speaker (Snowshoe), Brian Vary (Alpine) and Megan Cooper (Cross Country) will represent Maryland as part of the Special Olympics USA Team. They have been training hard for the last year and they are ready to go. They have also been raising money to help underwrite the expense related to attending the Games. You can be a part of their history by supporting them in their quest for personal best performances – find out more here.
I share this event timeline to illustrate how we continue to impact thousands of lives. We are fortunate to have so many Marylanders investing in our athletes. Those who Plunge and Dunk are great supporters. Individual donors and corporate partners need to know that their investment is making a difference every day in the lives of our athletes, Unified teammates, volunteers, and families through a robust, year-round schedule of training and competition. I also want to reinforce and recognize the incredible effort made by our exceptional corps of volunteers who deliver the program daily in communities across the state and without whom there would be no program. (see related article on Jane Dunne)
So I close with a simple thank you to everyone who made the month of February such a meaningful month of activity and impact for our athletes. Together we continue to create a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.
James C. Schmutz
President & CEO
I’m pictured above with Special Olympics Maryland athletes at the 2017 Capitol Hill Day in Washington, DC.