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SPECIAL OLYMPICS OREGON: CORONAVIRUS + REGIONAL COMPETITIONS IN MARCH

Mar 05, 2020 •

SPECIAL OLYMPICS OREGON: CORONAVIRUS + REGIONAL COMPETITIONS IN MARCH

From: Britt Oase, Special Olympics Oregon CEO
Re: COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus + Regional Competitions in March
Date: March 5, 2020


Special Olympics Oregon is amid its Winter season competitions and with growing concern over the coronavirus in the U.S. and specifically the Pacific Northwest, it is important that we address our upcoming competitions and events for the health and safety of everyone involved. Like everyone, we are trying to make the best decisions possible based on the information available regarding a rapidly changing public health concern.

REGIONAL COMPETITIONS: MARCH 7-8, MARCH 14-15
With a very small staff, we rely on our network of dedicated, trained volunteers to deliver our mission of sports training and competition in 30 county-based Local Programs across the State. Over the next two weekends, we have basketball and powerlifting regional competitions scheduled to serve 1,200 athletes, Unified partners, and coaches in multiple cities across Oregon that require many delegates to travel several hours by bus to attend.


We have been communicating with our Local Program leaders across the state, our counterparts at several other Special Olympics state Programs (including our neighbors in Washington), as well as seeking guidance from Special Olympics International and their health experts to make the right decisions for the athletes we serve in Oregon. We’ve weighed the actions of schools, other sports programs, and have tried to gather as much qualified information as possible – from the CDC and Oregon public health agencies – to help guide a decision that can have ramifications in either direction.

We have made the very difficult decision to suspend our regional competitions for the weekends of March 7-8 and March 14-15. We do not want to contribute to spreading panic or fear unnecessarily, nor run the risk of compromising the health and safety of anyone involved. Our decision was driven by several things:

• Our competitions require people to travel from all parts of the state to convene in gymnasiums and engage in sport
• We serve a population where many are at a heightened risk (age, compromised immune systems, and/or medically fragile)
• Making judgement calls on who can or who shouldn’t participate is an incredible burden to place on our volunteers and we have no surefire way to guarantee that athletes at a higher risk are held back from attendance
• If any athlete, coach, volunteer or family members were to show up to a competition with symptoms of illness, we cannot guarantee that we could properly quarantine them, especially if it would involve a bus trip home

While canceling events is disappointing for athletes who have trained for months to compete – as well as the volunteers, family, friends and our staff and board who look forward to cheering for them – we know that our love of sport doesn’t compare to the importance of protecting the health of the athletes, which will remain our priority.

Questions will be asked as to whether we are able to reschedule these events and we simply don’t have enough information at this time to make that determination.

LOCAL PROGRAM TRAINING
As it stands today, we are empowering our Local Program leaders to make responsible decisions about training in their own communities. They know their athletes and training in the hometowns is more contained than a regional competition. As news of this virus continues to evolve, we are prepared to make changes to our programming on a moment’s notice to adjust up or down. We thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation.


The direction we are providing to our Local Program leaders and coaches to protect all athletes is as follows:

• Statistics show that age can be a factor in the susceptibility of any virus, including the coronavirus. Individuals 60 years and older seem to be at a heightened risk and we urge Local Program leaders and coaches to consider whether these athletes should be held back from training and competing for the time being.
• Please do not allow athletes with compromised immune systems or who are more susceptible to getting sick to attend training or locally held competitions.
• If an athlete is showing ANY signs of illness, they should not train or compete, nor should they be around other athletes. The message to all: if you are experiencing symptoms, stay at home!

CDC GUIDELINES + OTHER RESOURCES
With so many news outlets, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Recommendations for information resources that our athletes, families and volunteers can trust are:
• Oregon Health Authority (OHA): OHA - coronavirus
• Center for Disease Control (CDC): CDC - coronavirus
• World Health Organization (WHO): WHO - coronavirus
• National Institute of Health (NIH): NIH - coronavirus

In everyone’s daily life and certainly if our athletes and volunteers are moving forward with any local training programs, we recommend following CDC guidelines for prevention, and the following is from their website:

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including: • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority. • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or bent elbow, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask. o CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. o Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. These people should not attend Special Olympics Oregon events. • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. o If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
• Maintain at least 3 feet distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Our volunteers – Local Program Coordinators and coaches – are the heart and soul of our organization. We trust you to be vigilant and make good choices on behalf of the people we serve. The risk is still a moving target and we’ll work together to share and analyze new information as it comes available – and will act swiftly to change course if need be. Our staff stands at the ready to assist. Please keep us updated on your plans for practices or gatherings in the coming weeks. Also, keep us posted on any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in your program.


Thank you for your ongoing support of Special Olympics Oregon and the athletes we all serve. We care deeply about you, our volunteers, who we rely on so heavily. Please be as dedicated to caring for your own health and well-being as we know you are for the athletes.

With gratitude,

Britt Oase
Chief Executive Officer
Special Olympics Oregon

Local Program Spotlight - Clackamas County

Jan 07, 2019 •

A Silver Lining

By: Tynan Gable

It is no secret that Special Olympics Oregon was facing a lot of uncertainty last year; this led to competitions being cancelled and training being limited to a no-cost policy. However, many of the local programs from around the state remained hard at work, continuing to find their own paths to success.


Joanne Trask, the Clackamas County local program coordinator (LPC), is a great example of this phenomenon. Joined by a loyal team of over ten other volunteers who work together to manage the sports and programming for Clackamas, Trask has been overwhelmed by the way her community has come together to make sure that the Clackamas County athletes have nothing short of an amazing experience this year.

“Everyone involved with Special Olympics is part of a very “can-do” population of people,” said Trask. “The athletes, coaches, and both the local and state management teams are working their hardest to keep things running smoothly and improve communication and transparency on all levels.”

Trask and her management team sprang into action immediately after hearing the news that the State Games would be canceled. They reached out to local businesses and potential donors and dedicated a lot of their early efforts to fundraising. Trask recalled the efforts of several remarkable individuals who hold some sort of leadership role within Special Olympics Oregon - Clackamas County:
● Dena Lund, the head bowling coach of 85 athletes in Milwaukie, rallied people together and fundraised enough to have a full bowling season in the Fall.
● Anne Beringer communicated with the Wilsonville Lanes, who agreed to donate their facility and also offered to help with ongoing fundraising efforts.
● The North Clackamas Parks and Recreation Department provided their soccer fields and porta potties to the Clackamas County team for free.
● The Lake Oswego Tennis Center continued to provide the Clackamas tennis players a facility to practice in free of charge.
● Matt Chrisman from the Lake Oswego Columbia Bank teamed up with a private donor to underwrite the total cost of swimming in TIgard. The Molala Aquatics Center and Canby Swim Team also joined in this effort.

Because of this true community-wide effort, Trask and her management team have hosted competitions in swimming, bowling, and soccer. The only sports they were not able to keep running this year were volleyball and snow sports.

“The engagement of everyone is really heartwarming and wonderful. Seeing the athletes still on task and training their skills for competitions is an amazing feeling,” explained Trask.

Without any hesitation, Trask and her management team are surging forward with more programming in the Spring. Within the next few months, Trask is looking forward to hosting seasons for tennis, basketball, powerlifting, and the walking club:
● Gerri Allen, the tennis coach for Special Olympics Oregon - Clackamas County has already agreed to host competitions in the Spring.
● Trask has been hard at work to ensure basketball will be possible; she hosted three fundraisers in the Fall and has been in conversation with several venues around the county.
● Kabuki Strength offered the use of their facility for free so that the Clackamas powerlifters would have a place to practice and compete.
● The walking club, coached by Amy and Chuck Boyle, started a year ago as a cost-effective alternative to snow sports. This will continue as planned this Winter and is great for the athletes in terms of exercise and social opportunities.

Still in the works for Trask and her team is planning for regional competitions in the Spring and beyond. The hope is that these larger-scale events will give the Clackamas athletes an opportunity to engage with their friends from nearby counties and provide a greater sense of the competitive atmosphere that many of the athletes love about Special Olympics.

“Seeing Clackamas County residents and businesses come together on such short notice has been a true revelation about the power of compassion and community,” said Trask. “People have substituted their disappointment with positivity and it is really inspiring and motivating to watch.”

This kind of positive mindset will continue to lead Special Olympics Oregon - Clackamas County through successful sports seasons in 2019. And for all of Special Olympics Oregon, it will be essential to focus on the reason each and every person chose to be involved in this incredible organization:

“Everything related to Special Olympics is pure fun, and that won’t change no matter what happens,” said Trask. “It’s a place where everyone, regardless of ability, can pursue their passion. And it will continue to be possible because the people who make up the Special Olympics community won’t have it any other way.”

Local Program Spotlight - Marion County

Dec 14, 2018 •

Having Fun, No Matter What

By: Tynan Gable

 

“Our focus has always been and will continue to be having fun,” said Mike Patterson, one of Special Olympics Oregon - Marion County’s superstar coaches.

A few years ago, there were no teams designated for athletes under the age of 18 in Marion County; the ten or so children involved in Special Olympics Oregon - Marion County were spread amongst the adult teams from around the county. Since he became involved, Patterson has expanded the youth program to serve around 40 athletes on a variety of youth-only teams.

Relying on word-of-mouth to spread the word about this new opportunity for children with Intellectual Disabilities in Marion County, Patterson is thrilled with the progress he’s been able to make in such a short time. The focus for these teams is to build skills and provide these children with a sense of belonging amongst their peers.

Since beginning the Special Olympics Oregon - Marion County youth programs, Patterson has been excited to see the children on his teams grow both as players and as individuals. Patterson recalled a particularly powerful experience he witnessed during his time coaching soccer. A child experiencing severe autism with extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli, who previously engaged in Special Olympics only to participate in the “skills” competitions, joined his youth soccer team.

“In one season,” Patterson recalled, “we saw him completely transform to where he actually scored a goal in our last game.”

When the news came this summer that there would be no state games, the disappointment was shared by families, athletes, and volunteers of Marion County alike. However, Patterson saw this as fuel for the work he was already doing to provide his youth teams with a full season in the coming year.

“We are trying to continue to build skills and let the kids go have a good time,” Patterson said.

Patterson worked alongside other Marion County volunteers and coaches to secure a place to practice, free of charge, for the season. The groups of athletes were a mixture of children and adults, but it proved to be a great way to help all the athletes continue to progress with their skills and technique despite there not being a state competition in the immediate future.

“Even though it’s hard right now, I know that Britt, the new CEO of Special Olympics Oregon, is doing a great job of managing the situation and leading her wonderful staff team towards a fast and full recovery,” Patterson said.

In the meantime, though, Patterson is excited about the prospect of getting local high school involved with the Unified Sports opportunity of Special Olympics. Recent conversations have been extremely positive with a variety of Athletic Directors from around Marion County expressing support of the idea.

“This would be life changing...” said Patterson when reflecting upon the potential formation of Unified teams. “...for the athletes as well as their typically developing peers.”

And that, in Patterson’s view, is the best thing about Special Olympics Oregon in general: Its ability to change lives. He explained how much he enjoys being a part of an organization that breaks down people's walls and creates a true sense of joy and pride in the spirit of inclusion.

“The idea that everyone has an equal opportunity to do what they love is what has always drawn me to be involved with Special Olympics,” said Patterson. “We are moving towards a world where people can understand and accept that, though adaptations may be needed for some individuals, everyone deserves to feel as though they belong.”

Local Program Spotlight - Linn County

Nov 30, 2018 •