Submitted by guest contributor Avery Danielson
Saturday April 12, 2014 saw Graceland University’s 4th annual year hosting the Iowa Special Olympics for the South Central Area. There were 21 participating groups, 18 events, about 200 volunteers, and over 200 athletes partaking in the day’s events.
After the 10 a.m. Opening Ceremonies (in which Kirk Bjorland, Graceland’s Vice President for Enrollment, gave the welcome, and GU student Jessica Dotson sung the National Anthem), the field events started. Beginning at 10:30, these included the running long jump, standing long jump, tennis ball throw, turbo javelin, shot put, and softball throw. There were also 4 athletes competing in the aquatic events held at the GU pool.
Ending the day were the track events, which included the 25 M walk, 50 M walk, 50 M dash, 100 M walk, 100 M dash, 200 M dash, 2K race walk, 400 M race walk, 800 M run, 400 M run, and the 4×100 M relay run. The athletes that participated in all these events ranged in all ages: from young children to elderly adults, and every age in between.
Out of the approximate 200 volunteers, about 95% of them were from the Graceland campus, according to Chauntel Ranney, who has been in charge of coordinating the event at Graceland for the past four years. The volunteers included the football team, men’s basketball team, men’s soccer, a couple girls from the women’s soccer team, J. Hoffman’s P.E. class, a few people from the cheer squad, the Gadets, Ranney’s student workers, the wresting team, and the athletic trainers. The night before the event, the volunteers were all instructed on how to act, what to expect, and what their jobs would be in a preparatory meeting directed by South Central Area Management Team and Chauntel Ranney.
The various duties of these volunteers included escorts who took the athletes from the staging area to their event, facility assistants who were assigned to a team and sat with them and cheered for them, timers for the track events, facilitators of the field events, announcers, sunscreen providers, and the running of the concession and Graceland stands.
“We told them that the day was not about them as volunteers, but about the athletes. [The athletes] love their events just as much as you love your sports, and they take this day just as seriously as you take your competitions. The spotlight will be all on them.” This is one of the things that Ranney told the volunteers in their pre-Special Olympic Day prep meeting. According to her, all the volunteers did an excellent job, took their roles very seriously, and learned a lot.
When asked what her favorite moment was, Ranney instantly had a reply. There are many moments that stick out to her every year, but this is one that she will not forget. “The coaches aren’t allowed down on the field with their athletes, unless there are special circumstances. There was a young boy participant who had had his coach down with him all morning, but by the afternoon’s track events he was able to be down on the field with just his escort, Justin Hicks.”
Hicks, a member of the GU football team, walked behind the boy for his whole race cheering him on, and after he crossed the finish line, Hicks threw his own cap in the air in celebration, and picked the boy up onto his shoulders as the whole crowd cheered.
“This day, for all those planning and running it, is very labor intensive… but it is also very rewarding.” Ranney is not the only one who shares the sentiment, as she also told me that several members of the football team personally thanked Coach Douglass for requiring them to volunteer. The motto, Ranney says, for the South Central Area (which was echoed on the t-shirts of many of the teams) is one that perfectly sums up the day’s events:
“Let me win,
But if I cannot win…
Let me be brave in the attempt.”
This day is an experience that is not easily forgotten by those who attend or participate Ranney says, and she encourages all those interested in volunteering to do so for next year’s Special Olympics.