Volunteers help make Special Olympics

Special Olympics participants line up for an event.

By Riley Langefeld
As suggested by the name, the Special Olympics has always been a special event in the Prospect community.
But this annual gathering isn’t like most events held at Prospect. It is one of the few events that operates almost entirely on volunteer work. Five hundred volunteers, to be specific. These people came out to Prospect on April 26th and worked for a full day performing various jobs at the competition.
“Without volunteers, we don’t run. Without volunteers, we can’t do anything,” said Special Olympics Illinois Area 18 Director Jordan Feldman.
Held annually at George Gattas Memorial Stadium, the event is a track and field competition for people with intellectual disabilities. Participants competed in long jump, shot put, races from 50 to 3000 meters, and numerous other events. Athletes who won gold medals in the events have the opportunity to compete in the Illinois state competition held in June.
“This is pretty much our largest local event that we host,” Feldman said.
Eighty members of Prospect’s boys’ and girls’ track teams arrived in droves at 9 a.m. on Sunday, as well as members of the service club and local parents.
Besides Prospect, the volunteers are drawn from the Mount Prospect and Arlington Heights communities. A large number of local people are coaches for the athletes in the months leading up to the competition, and many more help Feldman to orchestrate the event. Returning volunteer groups come from Lake Zurich High School, Conant High School, and Fremd High School. New groups came this year from Trinity International University in Deerfield, St. Viator High School, and Harper College.
“It’s a fun time. It’s cool to see them all working really hard, succeed[ing] in what they do,” volunteer Sean Smith said.
Smith came from Trinity with members of the school’s basketball team. He timed and helped to encourage athletes at the event. He said that he plans on returning next year.
The continued growth and success of the event excites Feldman.
“When you’re there that Sunday, and the events are running well and athletes are trying their hardest…that’s what drives you to keep going. Just to see all of the families happy and the athletes happy,” Feldman said.