The weather might have been gloomy outside, but nothing could dampen the spirits of those who competed, coached, cheered and volunteered at the 44th Special Olympics State Summer Games Saturday at the in Kingston.
Rain may have caused the postponement of the soccer and cycling events and forced the Olympic Village to be located inside Keaney Gymnasium, rather than the more spacious field behind the athletic buildings, but everyone made the best of the situation.
Bristol and Warren were well-represented at the games. At Saturday’s track and field events, the Bristol/Warren Huskies and the Bristol County Baysiders saw a combined 20 athletes win 31 awards.
Justin Maturi won two gold medals, in the 50-meter dash and the 100-meter dash, in his first year of competition.
“Justin’s teacher at Kickemuit Middle School got the whole class involved,” said the 15-year-old’s mother, Tracey. “Justin has always been very social. He’s enjoyed playing baseball in the past and he loved competing in the Special Olympics.”
This was Ryan Miranda’s fourth year at the Summer Games. On Saturday, he collected a pair of silver medals in the 800-meter race and the 1,500-meter race.
Miranda has excelled in multiple sports at Mount Hope High School, including indoor and outdoor track, cross country, unified basketball and unified bowling. He won the coach’s choice award in cross country, was the most valuable player of the basketball team and is nominated for the male student-athlete of the year award.
“It’s great to see Ryan compete with his peers,” said Ryan’s father, Paul. “He really enjoys being on a team.”
Ryan’s mother, Lisa, added, “It brings tears to your eyes to see the other parents cheering him on.”
As if the Special Olympics and the high school sports weren’t enough activity, Miranda also plays baseball. The Challenger team he plays for in Portsmouth has been selected to play an exhibition game at the Little League Baseball World Series on Aug. 25 against a team from Clemmons, N.C.
“Since Ryan started playing baseball, his motor skills have improved, he’s increased muscle tone and his grades have gotten better,” said Lisa.
After graduating, the 19-year-old would like to volunteer as a coach for the unified basketball and track teams. He wants to encourage other students with disabilities to not only participate in Special Olympics, but to compete for the high school teams.
Frank Siembab has been inspiring others and competing in Special Olympics for more than 40 years. Last Saturday he won a bronze medal in the softball throw.
“I had a lot of fun this year and I’m very proud that I won this medal,” stated Siembab. “It’s good to see some reporters here. It helps promote Special Olympics.”
Throughout the weekend, 1,400 athletes from all over Rhode Island competed in the Summer Games. In addition, 500 coaches and 500 volunteers helped everything run smoothly.
“Our staff and game management folks do a great job,” said Dennis DeJesus, CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island. “Each year we have more people who want to spend the weekend with us as volunteers and the teams look better and are better organized each year.”
Mount Hope is one of many high schools in Rhode Island that has embraced unified sports. Over the last couple of years, several schools have added unified basketball and/or volleyball teams, in which students with disabilities compete alongside their peers, known as partners.
“The unified sports have been a tremendous success story,” said DeJesus. “Two years ago, we had 10 basketball teams in the league. We now have 28 teams.”
DeJesus pointed out that the unified sports are entirely funded through a federal grant, adding no expense to the school departments.
“I couldn’t be happier that these kids get to compete for their schools, while wearing their school colors, just like all the other athletes,” said the director. “It’s all about inclusion, acceptance and respect for these athletes. It’s equally important to the partners who compete with them.”
Despite the downturn in the local economy in recent years, Special Olympics Rhode Island has only lost one sponsor in the three years DeJesus has been CEO, while adding five sponsors in 2012 alone.
“Everyone is aware of the difference Special Olympics makes in people’s lives,” said DeJesus. “Companies want to partner with an organization that has a track record of doing things the right way.”
Special Olympics also has a partnership with city and state police officers, fire fighters and correction officers.
“They raise $200,000 a year at events all over the state,” said DeJesus. “We’re so proud to have them participate in our torch run and hand out the ribbons and medals at the podium. The athletes really look up to them.”