By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario – Over 80 young athletes with intellectual disabilities wore their team jerseys like a badge of honour at the Four Corners Provincial Bocce Qualifier in Cornwall on Friday.
Fourteen teams of students from seven high schools in Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry competed at Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School, vying for an opportunity to advance to the Provincial School Championships to be held in May 2015, hosted by Special Olympics Ontario.
Cornwall Community Police Service (CCPS) officers were on site to cheer on the enthusiastic athletes. Their annual Law Enforcement Torch Run raises thousands for Special Olympics – the charity of choice of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
Alex Noort, 20, from North Dundas District High School launched a ball down the gymnasium’s slick hardwood floor. Surrounded by colourful uniforms as his fellow classmates and teachers roared out in support, he returned to the bench after delivering a series of high-fives.
“My favourite part is playing,” said Noort, who was diagnosed with down syndrome at an early age. “I can’t wait for next year.”
The bocce ball tournament is organized by Four Corners Youth Sports (a companion program of the Special Olympics) for students aged 13 to 21 who have an intellectual disability.
Colleen Vanturnhout, an educational assistant who works with Noort, proudly watched as several of his classmates from the Futures Program showed off all their training from gym class over the last few weeks.
“It’s gets us out of the school, involved with the Special Olympics, and socializing with other kids who also have special needs,” said Vanturnhout.
Every participant is given a ribbon at the closing ceremony. The results of the tournament will be announced in the upcoming weeks.
“We’re getting students in special education programs out playing sports just like their mainstream peers do all the time; throwing on that jersey and feeling like a part of a team,” said Kirsten Bobbie, program developer for secondary schools and competition for Special Olympics Ontario.
Brian Snyder, CCPS staff sergeant, co-chaired the non-profit, charitable organization’s Provincial Games hosted by the Cornwall police in 1996.
“These events have struck a chord with many of our officers,” said Snyder. “When they say thank you at the end of day it’s so genuine and you can feel it.”
Stacey McKeown, district developer for Special Olympics – Eastern Ontario, was there to expose all the options available for local residents, thanks to the Alexandria & Cornwall community group.
There are afterschool and weekend sports programs spots open as well as an active start program for ages 2 to 6 for fundamental sports activities through play with parents. The only cost is a nominal registration fee. Fundraisers throughout the year help pay for uniforms and equipment costs.
“We’re definitely in need of volunteers a few hours a week for coaching or administrative duties,” said McKeown.
She added that having previous experience with intellectual disabilities would be a benefit, but having a passion to help others will do just fine.
For more information, visit alexandria-cornwall.specialolympicsontario.ca.