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Area Special Olympics events in doubt

Posted on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 9:17 am

Without director, Area 13 games could be canceled

By Elena Cawley, Staff Writer

With no director, upcoming Area 13 Special Olympics events could be canceled, according to officials.

Former director Gary Gesell stepped down a few months ago with the hope that another individual would volunteer to fill the position. However, no candidate had expressed interest as of Friday.

Area 13 Special Olympics athletes hail from Coffee, Franklin, Moore, Lincoln and Bedford counties.

First to be canceled would be the Special Olympics Bowling Games, which are set for October.

Gesell and representatives of Skills Development Services (SKS) of Tullahoma are asking for a volunteer to step up for the position.

Clients at SKS have participated in the bowling events for more than 20 years.

With currently no director to organize the events, Area 13 Special Olympics bowling games, usually held in October, might be canceled this year. Skills Development Services (SKS) client Brenda Presley is practicing for the competition with the help of Angela Escalon, direct support professional with SKS.


Meeting set

A meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16 in the community meeting room of the Coffee County Administrative Plaza in Manchester.

Representatives from Special Olympics Tennessee will attend to discuss the future of the games and consider candidates for the director’s position.

While voluntary, Gesell said serving as director is rewarding. The director coordinates the efforts of the volunteers.

“The area director works with all the schools, skills development centers and independent organizations of the five counties to organize the events,” he said. “There are over 30 schools in the districts.”

Between nine and 12 events are held each year, according to Gesell.

“The area director coordinates all those events,” he said. “When you have an event, you have to set up the field, make sure everything is prepared, and make sure all the paperwork and registration forms are taken care of.”

Additionally, the director is responsible for raising funds.

“To run all these events, you have to raise money to make sure you have the supplies you need,” Gesell said. “You need medals, ribbons, meals, T-shirts.”

Volunteers help the director set up the venues, purchase materials and organize the athletes.

“The volunteers help you,” he said. “You just have to coordinate with them.”


Supporting the new director

“If somebody volunteers, there will be support,” Gesell said. “Our commitment is to work with the new director during the transition for a full year. I am not abandoning the Special Olympics, I’m just stepping down as a director. I’m still going to volunteer for events and give as much or as little support during the transition as needed.”

During the Oct. 16 meeting, Special Olympics representatives will discuss the future of the bowling events and consider candidates for the director’s position. Interested individuals are encouraged to contact Gesell by calling (931) 273-7763.

“During the meeting, people from Nashville will come down to talk with the candidates,” Gesell said.

“It is a volunteer position; it’s not a paid position,” Gesell said. “It’s as little as you want to put in or as much as you want to put in.”

The more familiar the director becomes with his or her duties, the easier organizing the event is, Gesell said.

“When you have all your ducks in a row, it’s easy,” Gesell said.

Because of the great support of volunteers, the main responsibility of the director is preparing the paperwork.

“There is paperwork involved,” Gesell said. “You have to make sure every athlete has to have an application. That application consists of a physical form and a release form. There are over 1,000 athletes. It can be kind of a cumbersome thing because you have to verify that paperwork. But once you do it one time, you don’t have to worry about it for the next event.”

Gesell served as director for five years before stepping down.

“If somebody doesn’t step up, these athletes can’t have Special Olympics,” Gesell said. “They need an area director for that. It’s very rewarding; it’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done.”

Gesell said when he took the position, he had decided to serve as a director for five years.

“Now, it’s time for somebody else to do it,” Gesell said.


Looking forward to competing

Clients and staff of SKS found out that Special Olympics events might not be held about a month ago.

“The event should be coming up in October,” Amelia Majors, day coordinator supervisor for SKS, said. “We have bowling as a Special Olympics event every year. Locally, we only do bowling.”

Practicing for the competition in October begins in March, Majors said.

“We are building up our scores and making sure we practice,” Majors said. “There is a student-bowling Special Olympics and the adult-bowling Special Olympics.”

More than 300 athletes participate in the contest, Majors said.

“The events are every year,” Majors said. “Our guys look forward to this every year, so we are a little bit bummed about it. I have been with Skills Development since 1999, and we have done it every year. Just in the agency I work for, we roughly have about 150 to 200 clients that would participate in this event.”

Majors said if no one volunteers for the position of Area 13 director, SKS will organize a bowling competition for the members of the center.

“I have talked with our director, Tina Jones, and she has told me we, as an agency, will have a special bowling,” Majors said. “We might not be able to call it “Special Olympics,” but we will do something similar to that and provide our individuals with ribbons. But that will be just in Coffee, Bedford and Lincoln counties.”

Majors said she doesn’t know if the other counties of Area 13 will organize similar events in case Special Olympics games are not held.

“I am worried about it,” Majors said. “Our guys look forward to that, and we don’t want to disappoint them. Staff looks forward to it, too.”

Majors said if someone steps up for the position of Area 13 director, SKS staff will provide full support.

“We have volunteers that will run the event,” Majors said. “We always have provided the volunteers. We just need somebody to coordinate the event.”

Eric Eakin, general manager of Tullahoma Bowling Lanes, also said he would help the new director.

“We have had the games at the Tullahoma Bowling Lanes longer than I have been here, and I have been here since 2001,” Eakin said. “The bowlers seem to be really excited to participate. I know they look forward to it.”

Volunteers with the Tullahoma Bowling Lanes will be on hand to assist, said Eakin.

“The day of the event requires a lot of volunteers to help with traffic flow, get athletes to the right place, at the right time, keep scores, and hand out the ribbons at the end of the competition,” Eakin said. “In the student Special Olympics, there are around 200 athletes, and in the adult events there are usually about 120.”

The Special Olympics bowling games for students and adults are held on separate days, usually a couple of weeks apart, said Eakin.

“We really hope we can find a director to handle things offsite, as far as registration and the behind-the-scene stuff,” Eakin said. “Our staff and volunteers can run the event on the day of; we have done it long enough to know how to do it. We just need somebody to handle things outside of the bowling alley, such as paperwork and coordinating.”

For more information and to apply for the position of Area 13 director, contact Gesell at (931) 273-7763.


About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is the world largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. More than 4 million athletes in 170 countries participate in the events. Millions of volunteers and supporters help with organizing the games.

For more than 43 years, contestants have trained and competed in 32 Olympic-style sports.

Special Olympics Tennessee holds over 100 competitions each year at the local, regional and state level. Also, athletes have the chance to compete every four years at the USA Games and World Games.

For more information about Special Olympics, visit