Peel Special Olympics

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Photo by: Jelani Grant

BY: JELANI GRANT 

For the first time, the Peel Region Police hosted the Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Summer Games. From opening to closing ceremonies, the audience and athletes were thrilled to come together to compete in five different fields of sport but also to celebrate each other.

Nearly 800 athletes from across Ontario competed in the fields of athletics, bocce, golf, soccer, and softball. Athletes were divided into Central Ontario, Eastern Ontario, Greater Toronto Area, North Ontario, South Central Ontario, and South Western Ontario.

The games ran from July 13-15 throughout the afternoon all across the Peel area. All of the athletic events were held inside the Terry Fox Stadium, while bocce players contested at Century Gardens. The soccer games were played at Huron Park while Dunton Athletic Fields hosted the softball games, and the golf matches were played at Caledon Country Club.

Various events saw teams and players from the Greater Toronto Area take gold. The softball events saw the Brampton Panthers take gold in their division and during the bocce games, Lisa Torti, from Vaughn, represented her district coming first in her division.

The soccer teams were divided into three divisions; red, white, green and blue. The local Brampton Panthers won gold dominating their red division with 11 goals. The St. Catherine’s Saints scored 9 goals in total, awarding them gold in the white division. The blue division was led by the Mississauga Magic, who scored 9 goals, and the green division was won by the Peterborough Vipers who scored the most, with 12 goals.

For golf, players were split into 10 divisions, 9 male, and 1 female. Tess Trojan represented the South Central Ontario district, winning her women’s division with a score of 105. The GTA saw two of their own rank first in their respective divisions; Michael James finished with a score of 122 while Jason Scorcia ranked first in his division with a score of 131.

The athletic events ran every day starting with the 3,000m run and the 200m preliminaries for track. Shot put preliminaries, standing long jump preliminaries and the mini-javelin preliminaries were the field events that started this year’s Special Olympics. On the second day, GTA local Catherine Partlow took 1st place in the 400m run and Timothy Francis from Greater Durham came in first in his shot put event. Alex Keeting led his division in the 1,500m run and in the mini javelin competition, Newmarket local Amy Jaeger came first in her division.

Some of the more recognizable attendees included hockey legend and two-time Olympian Geraldine Heaney, CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry, and Toronto Argonauts Vice-Chair and retired Argonaut Pinball Clemens. Heaney’s presence to the stage immediately caused an eruption inside the 5,000-seat Powerade Centre during the closing ceremony. She shared her sister’s consistent dedication to the Special Olympics and how she continues to support the games following her sister’s passing. “She was a police officer for 20 years…she introduced me to the Special Olympics about 15 years ago and I always heard that once you’ve been introduced to the Special Olympics, you’re here for life,” she said.

She commended the Peel Police for their successful run of the games and mentioned that her sister would surely be proud of what they have achieved.

Cherry said despite attending a number of Special Olympics before, this year had become his favorite because the games were hosted in Mississauga, his neighborhood, but more importantly, he is a big supporter of this year’s hosts, the Peel Region Police. “Every time the police ask me to do something, I’m there, where would we be without them. They put their life on the line,” he said.

Founded in 1979, the Special Olympics Ontario provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children, youth, and adults with intellectual disabilities. Toronto researcher and professor, Dr. Frank Hayden, began testing of children with intellectual disabilities during the 1960s, revealing that they were only half as physically fit as their non-disabled peers. It was assumed that their low fitness levels were a direct result of their disabilities but Dr. Hayden challenged this assumption.

Working with a controlled group of children on an intense fitness program, he proved that intellectually disabled people could become physically fit and acquire the physical skills needed to participate in sports just like anyone else. His research proved that low levels of fitness and lack of motor skills development in people with intellectual disabilities were a result of nothing more than an inactive life style. Inspired by his discoveries, Dr. Hayden began searching for ways to develop a national sports program for intellectually disabled people. His studies caught the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in Washington, D.C., and would later lead to the founding of the Special Olympics.

The Ontario Special Olympics strive to promote respect, acceptance, and inclusion, amongst the community of the intellectually disabled, mostly through physical activities. One primary method of encouraging respect and inclusion is the running of their athlete leadership program. Athletes are taught various leadership tools such as speaking persuasively, analyzing financial reports, speaking with media, prepping for fundraising events, discussing their opinion of policies and learning to mentor other athletes.

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