The Thrill of Giving Back – FHSD hosted Special Olympics tournament at FHC in January

Posted on 03/01/2015

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. These are two emotions inherent in sports, and they are emotions that we sometimes take for granted. The Special Olympics is an organization that wants everyone to experience those emotions, as well as experience the feeling of accomplishment that also goes hand-in-hand in athletic competition. And students and teachers from throughout the Francis Howell School District (FHSD) continue to come together to do whatever they can to help these athletes reach their potential on and off the field of play.

Joe Shaw is an assistant principal at John Weldon Elementary, where his time is spent helping his students exceed their potential in the classroom. He finds creative ways to reach kids at all levels. But he has another task of which he is most proud. He runs the Special Olympics activities for FHSD. “It’s just a way to give back to the community and to help other people,” Shaw said.

On Jan. 17, FHSD held its annual Special Olympics basketball tournament at Francis Howell Central (FHC), an all-day event with several teams competing. With about 200 players and over 100 volunteers on hand, FHC was filled with spectators who got to see athletes shatter the misconception that sports is not for everyone.

Those on hand witnessed the joy of athletes who were able to tap their sporting potential, and watch them discover new strengths, skills, and abilities. They witnessed the development of confidence and fulfillment – in those who might not have been given the chance before. That’s why sports were created and it’s why the Special Olympics were created; for everyone to enjoy these experiences.

FHSD has long been involved with Special Olympics, but it had been run by parents of FHSD students for quite some time. Shaw took over a couple of years ago to lend his experience and help grow the program. “I have always loved basketball, and have been working with Special Olympics basketball since my early twenties. And then I got involved with Camp Rainbow in Chillicothe, Missouri for many years, as well. You know, I’ve really enjoyed it, and I think our group has come a long way in the last two or three years.”

Among the large group of volunteers at FHC that day were several students from FHSD. The Student Council (STUCO) at FHC set up a victory village, full of games, food, entertainment, even a karaoke machine for the kids to spend time with each other between games.

In addition, members of the FHC boys and girls basketball teams spent the day at the gym refereeing and keeping score for the games.

Shaw said, “I want to thank Scott Harris, the Activities Director at FHC, and Vicki Pohlman, the sponsor of STUCO at the school, and the (Francis) Howell Central basketball teams. They really stepped up to help get this done; and without them, the volunteers, and the students involved, we could never have had such a great event.” 

FHSD’s Special Olympics Committee is currently developing their end-of-the-year clinic for Special Olympic athletes. Several sports will be exhibited for athletes to try and choose what they’re interested in. Skills can be developed from there, and they will be able to sign up for those sports throughout the year.

 Championship Village
These events give Special Olympic athletes an opportunity to learn something new, or to master something they know well. But the fun isn’t just for the athletes. Those who coordinate and volunteer at the events get something perhaps even more valuable in return. They get to rediscover those emotions that go with sports and feeling of belonging on a team.

Pohlman said, “I believe that our members always benefit from these experiences as much as the athletes do. There aren’t words to describe the emotion on our members’ faces when they played some of the silly contests with the athletes. And the hugs were enough to make the work more than worth it.”

Overall, it is well worth it to see the student athletes with that look of accomplishment, and that sense of belonging. And the experience was worth it for those who put together the Special Olympics tournament because they helped make the day special for special group of athletes. Shaw says that’s what we should live for. “It’s just an opportunity to help other people,” he said. “And that’s what life is really about – your chances to give back to others.
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