Special Olympics: Athletes, Coaches and Fans

TR Staff
Staff Writer

By Joey Marini
Special Olympics Valley City, ND was founded in 1972. Their mission is to “provide year-round training and athletic competition in a variety of well-coached, Olympic-type sports. Special Olympics provides continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness skills; prepare for entry into school and community sports programs; express courage; experience joy; and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.”
With such a rich history of inclusive physical fitness for persons with intellectual disabilities, the Special Olympics of Valley City offers an opportunity to nearly 100 participants throughout the year. Cindy Schopper, President of Special Olympics Valley City, has been working in this position for over thirty years. Holding nine-week schedules, Valley City hosts year-round games including; basketball, bocce ball, powerlifting, track and field, unified volleyball, soccer, bowling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. They hold practices twice a week baring weather and facility conditions.
The Valley City chapter has members as young as eight years old all the way to seventy-four. They currently are preparing for the spring sports of unified volleyball, track and field, powerlifting, and a Special Olympic participant favorite, bocce ball. The district championship games will be held in Fargo this year from June 7th – 9th.
Participation and advocacy can come from the community in many different forms. Cindy Schopper stated that the Special Olympics – Valley City currently has about fifteen coaches in the core group, with a majority of them coaching several sports. They are always looking to increase the size of qualified coaches and ask for anyone interested to make contact. Special Olympics – Valley City has a Facebook page that can be liked and followed for schedules, inquiries, and updates. Cindy can also be contacted at cindy.schopper@odcvc.com or (701) 840 – 1191.
Athletes participate in a fun-filled season of practices and local competitions, concluding play in area, district, or state games. Every four years Special Olympics holds national games. Summer and World games are also held every four years, with Special Olympics Valley City returning this past summer from Abu Dabi. There are certain stepping stones for athletes and coaches to meet in order to qualify for those games, so it is important to get involved with the local chapter to understand the requirements. District and local games are funded by the area while state, national, and world games are funded by the state of North Dakota.
Special Olympics – Valley City has made a huge push to become more inclusive, branching into a club at Valley City State University and through unified sports. On March 6th, 2019, VCSU's S.O. College Club hosted a “Spread the Word; Inclusion” event and has been a catalyst for the entire community coming together. Cindy Schopper says she is very happy to see the increase in exposure. “There is a lot more interaction and exposure here in Valley City. Some people may experience the Special Olympics on a rare occasion but never have means to contact that organization again.” She continued with appreciation for the university, “A lot of students at VCSU are education majors. Being involved with the club, the organization, or just through volunteerism is a great way to gain experience, knowledge, and add something meaningful to a resume.” The college club has nearly 40 members, meeting every Tuesday night at the St. Catherine's gymnasium to do activities, play games, and host events.
Something in which VC has been very competitive throughout the district has been individual sports. The community has rallied behind Special Olympics – Valley City to make our team sports just as, if not more, competitive. Through unified sports, Special Olympics – Valley City has the opportunity to take part in the inclusion revolution; unifying both the special needs community and college/high school/middle school students. They look to make a big push for effective teamwork in future competitions.
The Country Club will host a fundraiser for the Special Olympics – Valley City on May 31st in form of a golf tournament. It will be one of the first tournaments played this season and is the 31st annual event hosted by the Valley City's Special Olympics team. It will be open to individual play as well as team scramble at $75/person. This will include 18 holes of play, a hamburger buffet, and an award ceremony. If you aren't Tiger Woods on the links, you can also sponsor an athlete for $50, putting their picture on the course in support. They look to continue raising funds through the college and other events throughout the spring season. Donations and volunteerism are always welcomed and appreciated as well.
Cindy Schopper, a seasoned veteran in the assistance, facilitation, and promotion of Special Olympics, offers a word of wisdom to those looking to get involved.
“Once you get involved, you'll be instantly hooked. Whether as a partner, volunteer, coach, or even just a spectator. It's such a rewarding adventure to take part in something so communally important.”