The bench at Thunder Mountain Middle School exploded with cheers as their yellow-shirted basketball teammates raced up and down the hardwood dribbling, passing and shooting.
It’s obvious why the Enumclaw-based Special Olympics team won the Cheermeister Award during Enumclaw’s holiday parade – they’re enthusiastic.
“The reaction from the kids is unbelievable,” coordinator Bonnie Kennedy said. But even more exciting, she added, is the reaction from the parents and people in the community.
“It touches people from outside our kids.”
Kennedy and her small army of parents, peer mentors and community supporters started the program a year ago to fill a void. In the past few years, Enumclaw has offered a sporadic Special Olympics program, specifically targeting athletes ages 8 to 15.
The response has been phenomenal, Kennedy said. The program not only draws from the Plateau, but has brought in athletes from Bonney Lake and Graham.
Last spring, the organization fielded a 10-person all-athlete soccer team which won gold at the King County regional tournament.
In the fall, 26 kids, a mix of athletes and unified players turned out for bowling.
The group currently has two basketball teams with 20 players, plus a skills team, which concentrates on dribbling and shooting.
Recently, the Enumclaw basketball team earned a silver medal at the regional tournament in Issaquah, not high enough to attend the state tournament, but as luck would have it, the gold medal team defaulted and the Enumclaw squad is headed to Wenatchee Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the state tournament.
Athletes rotate through the sports every two to three months. Other sports can be added, but right now, Kennedy said, they are concentrating on the three.
Enumclaw’s Special Olympics teams fall into two categories – an all-athlete team called Enumclaw Thunder, and a unified team dubbed the Enumclaw Titans. Unified players are identified as those without disabilities.
The sports are fun, but also provide athletes with opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and share their gifts, skills and friendship with families, other athletes and the community.
“It’s really fun,” Kennedy said. “We’re really hoping to get it going enough that it becomes a real program.”
To help out, the program has teamed up with Enumclaw Parks and Recreation and is part of Special Olympics of Washington.
For information, visit Enumclaw Parks and Recreation, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is also available at www.enumclawspop.com, click the Special Olympics button.