Julian Garcia’s face lit up immediately when he recounted the day last year when he became a double gold medalist.
With a smile spreading from ear to ear, Julian will gladly tell you that he won the 55-meter run and the softball toss at last year’s Special Olympics in Commack. He hopes to take the title in those two events again this year when the competition comes to Southampton for the first time.
“It was awesome,” Julian, a 19-year-old 12th-grader, said excitedly while standing in the special education classroom at Southampton High School. “I felt awesome!”
Julian is just one of an estimated 300 to 500 children and adults with cognitive impairment who will be participating in Special Olympics-South when it makes its inaugural run on May 18. The event, which is expected to attract roughly 1,000 observers to the track at Southampton High School to support the athletes, is designed to allow people with special needs the opportunity to feel included in sports and to give them the opportunity to succeed.
The Special Olympics in Southampton will mark only the second time the event is held on the East End, the first time having been in East Hampton three years ago. Organizers consider it a great opportunity to spread the word about Special Olympics programs to local residents.
Southampton physical education teacher and coach Brian Tenety is leading the charge in organizing the event, which will feature both track and field events and tennis.
“The ultimate goal of the day is to bring the community together and to do something great,” Mr. Tenety said. “It is to be able to put our kids and our community out there and so people can see what we can do as a community.”
According to Mr. Tenety, organizers are hoping to make the event similar to the actual Olympic Games, meaning there will be an opening ceremony, medal ceremonies and an “Olympic village,” where locals can set up free, family-friendly activities for attendees and their families.
Last week, Mr. Tenety said plans for the event are going well, and that several subcommittees—including those on food, the Olympic village, fundraising and security—have been formed to make sure the event goes off without a hitch. His hope is that the event can be as much about the athletes, who range from first grade through adulthood, as possible.
There will be approximately 15 events during the day, mostly specializing in track and field. Registration will start at 7:30 a.m. at the high school, and the contests should wrap up around 4:30 p.m.
Rain or shine, by the end of the day on May 18, there will be a whole new group of Olympic medalists who have made Southampton High School their victory grounds.
According to Mr. Tenety, the school district has reached out to every school superintendent and special education coordinator in the area to let them know about registering athletes, schedules and events.
At the same time, Mr. Tenety wants local parents and guardians of special needs individuals to know that the Special Olympics does not have to be a once-a-year event. Most parents, he says, are not aware that they can take a class to become a certified Special Olympics coach, which would open up a new set of opportunities for local athletes.
“Our big push is to get people trained and have more athletes involved from the East End,” he said. “From William Floyd Parkway down, there are just not a lot of people who participate, and we want to change that. I don’t think parents realize they can get certified as a coach and have their kids participate. Little League is easy to find, but sometimes something like this is not as accessible.”
Although Mr. Tenety cannot commit to having the event at Southampton again next year, he said he is hopeful the Special Olympics-South event will be able to stay on the East End. One idea, he said, is to have the event rotate to schools in the area, with the schools lending support to each other in the process.
High school students will help organize the event, and will facilitate the races throughout the day. Mr. Tenety is hoping non-students will get involved as well. Anyone who’d like to join Fans in the Stands, a group of spectators who turn out with signs and support for the Special Olympics athletes, will spread the good “cheer” even further.
“Every community has its own uniqueness,” Mr. Tenety said. “If that means there is a local Girl Scout troop that thinks they can add to the event, we find a way to include them. Local bagpipers, junior firefighters, local police—this is a small community, [and] there is a lot we can get within reach, and that is going to be key to getting this to go off.
“Students are going to be the key to success here because they will be the ones walking with the kids,” he continued. “They will be setting up games, they will be a big part of everything.”
Anyone looking for more information about the event can contact Mr. Tenety at firstname.lastname@example.org.