MCB Quantico --
About a year ago, Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Jedding, a religious program specialist at Marine Corps Base Quantico, was trying to come up with a different kind of community outreach event. He had just arrived at the base.
“I wanted to get away from the norm of homeless shelters and animal shelters,” he said. The Special Olympics came to mind, as he has an aunt with Down syndrome who has participated in the games, so he sent out a few exploratory emails.
What he didn’t know yet was that Special Olympics Virginia had just received a grant from the Department of Defense to coordinate activities for families connected to the military. Jedding put the base’s Exceptional Family Members Program in touch with the local Special Olympics, and the idea quickly gained momentum.
“It was kind of a perfect storm of events,” said Monique O’Neil, who runs Quantico’s EFMP.
Now, she said, a Special Olympics track and field meet is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2013, at Butler Stadium. Weekly practices for the event will begin July 13, also at the base stadium. The games are open to Marine Corps families connected to EFMP throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, as well as families in Prince William and Stafford counties.
It will be the first Special Olympics event on the base since a baseball game about 12 years ago, O’Neil said.
“We’re hoping this will be the start of an ongoing relationship with Special Olympics and, hopefully, more grants to keep it going,” she said.
“We want this eventually to become a local program under our area, so we would be offering as many programs as we can right there at Quantico,” said Peggy Van Lowe, area coordinator for the greater Prince William area of Special Olympics.
Van Lowe said organizers hope to have somewhere between 60 and 100 athletes, ages 5 and up, participating in the September track meet, as well as the practices. “The event is actually the culmination of the training this group of young people will be going through over eight weeks,” she said.
Events, modified from actual Olympic track and field competitions, include a long jump, a beanbag shot put, 25-meter and 50-meter run/walks, an obstacle course, a shuttle run, a goal kick and a hula-hoop triple jump.
Van Lowe said the track meet will rely on a buddy system, with a volunteer working with each athlete and other volunteers working at the eight stations.
“The athletes love the competition, and it shows what they can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t,” she said. “This really gives them an opportunity to strut their stuff.”
“You see their capabilities — you don’t see them as a diagnosis,” O’Niel said. “You see them doing it, and it’s awesome.”
The Quantico High School Junior ROTC will present the colors before the national anthem is sung and the athletes march onto the field, she said. “We’re going to turn Butler Stadium into a mini-Olympic village.”
About a year of planning and paperwork has gone into the event.
“This was actually my main goal while I’m here at Quantico,” Jedding said. In the future, he said, he hopes to coach Special Olympics bowling at Little Hall and bring events like basketball and bocce ball to the base. But a lot of logistics are involved.
“We’re jumping in at the shallow end to see how the water is,” he said. “If it’s good, we’ll dive into the deep end.”
Registration for athletes and volunteers is available at the EFMP House on Neville Road. Practices will be from 11 a.m. to noon every Saturday from July 13 to Aug. 31.
O’Niel said the practices are important for participants.
“Our children have special needs,” she said. “They need to get acclimated to the location. They have to know the routine.”
The track and field meet will run from 9 a.m. to noon, Sept. 7.
— Writer: firstname.lastname@example.org