More than sports: Troup County Special Olympics is a place for all

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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The Troup County Special Olympics team is a haven for some of the most beloved families in the community. Almost every Monday, around 20 participants work on developing skills in basketball, soccer, softball or volleyball.

“They love it and we are pretty good,” Paula Burgess, the head of the program,  said with a laugh. “We may not always win, but we usually finish in the top 3 and the kids love that. They really are all great kids.”

Consisting of 5 teams — middle school, high school, two groups of older participants and a skills team made up of athletes who might not be ready or able to participate in full games, but still want to partake in the fun.

“Some of them are just not ready to play in games yet while others will never be able to play, and this gives them a chance to participate and learn some of the skills involved with the sports,” Burgess said.

Right now, the teams are meeting every Monday with the exception of Christmas for the next month as they prepare for their upcoming basketball season. The athletes are learning about the sport but also developing life skills.

“When we go the competitions we spend the night, and it teaches them how to act in public and how to spend the night away from home,” Burgess said.    

For parents and guardians, it is a nice change of pace as some are 24/7 primary caregivers and for an hour and a half a week, their loved ones are in the best of hands as they get some exercise, have fun and learn.

“We want them to understand sportsmanship, teamwork and how to work together, but we also want them to smile and have a good time,” said Rich Shuman, a coach with the program

Once a coach or volunteer gets started with the Special Olympics, you are in hook line and sinker. It is a beautiful experience for all those who have found a second home with the team.

“I came out with one of my friends six years ago because I had just gotten back into softball and they needed somebody to pitch to some of the athletes because their coach couldn’t show up that day and the coach had to miss the next week too and the kids got used to my pitching and wanted me to coach,” Shuman said. 

Shuman has even recruited his daughter, Ashley Riddle, to come out and be a coach with the program. These two and Burgess are aided by two other coaches — Daniel Shelnutt and Bo Bently.

This year’s basketball teams consist of Jatorrian Coverson, Ty Cox, Jadarius McFarland, Malik Williams, Daniel Shelnutt, Devin Dardy, Robert Franklin, Danh Lamb, Tamiracle McFarland, Abby Nixon, Justin Johnson, April Peardon, Nick Lindsey, Rashad Potts, Adam Sledge, Drew Riddle, Whitney Bledsoe, Cameron Marable, Austin Meinzer, Gabrielle Thompson, Michael Atcherson, Becca Burnette, Noah Mazzolini, Tyler McCory and Patti Garland. 

Practices are exactly what you would expect, stretching, cardio and then working on various basketball skills. It is not much different that any other basketball practice in the county, only with a few more smiles.