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Local Special Olympics athletes head to state games

April 1, 2017 GMT

The time has come for Special Olympic athletes to be in the spotlight.

The spring games are March 31- April 2 for Special Olympic athletes across the state. March 11 was the regional qualifying games.

The sports that the students competed in during regionals were swimming and basketball, which drew in participation from Alliance, Chadron, Ogallala and Scottsbluff.

“Not every athlete participates in every sport. Our biggest sport is bowling,” Gloria Kennedy said, co-head of delegation for Scotts Bluff County Thunder.

Thirty-two athletes with Scotts Bluff County Thunder are set to compete in Lincoln for the spring games—bowling and basketball. Those who compete in summer events at the state level will go to Omaha in May.

At the regionals, students qualify to go to state and it is a prerequisite before they can represent their city at the state level.

Special Olympic athlete Josh McAlpine, who has been going to the spring games since 2005, said his favorite thing about the spring games is “having fun and meeting other teams.

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Charlie Kennedy, the co-head of delegation for Scotts Bluff County Thunder, said the athletes have varying abilities. Charlie Kennedy said some athletes are pretty competitive.

“For others, it’s based on their own individual pace so when they do go to Lincoln, they will be up against athletes who have the same type of abilities,” Charlie Kennedy said. “You don’t have really good athletes who are competing against more challenged athletes.”

There are certain protocols and rules that students have to follow in order to go to the state Special Olympics.

“They could get disqualified if they don’t conform to the rules,” Charlie Kennedy said.

This is the second year the Kennedys are the heads of delegation for the Scotts Bluff County Thunder. Charlie Kennedy said they have been involved with the program since they moved to Scottsbluff in 2008.

Their daughter, Alena, has been involved with Special Olympics, which is how the Kennedy’s became involved with the organization. She started with bowling at eight-years-old and now does swimming, bowling, basketball, volleyball, weightlifting and track and field.

Charlie Kennedy said the athletes love getting attention and will cheer each other on.

“It’s fun to see them grow and be part of a team,” Charlie Kennedy said. “We’ve grown the program a little bit. We did outreach to people we know and landed 10 new athletes.”

Charlie Kennedy said they want to grow the program more and wants more athletes to be involved. He said one issue is recruiting new athletes and getting them to play.

Scotts Bluff County Thunder has a different coach for each event they do. Charlie Kennedy said the coaches are people who have an interest in Special Olympics and they have some expertise in the sport they are coaching. There are six sports that the athletes can get involved in.

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Bowling is the longest season as it starts in September and ends in April. Swimming and basketball go from January to May.

Greg West, basketball coach for the Scotts Bluff County Thunder, said it’s very gratifying to be the coach. West said at first he was anxious about being a coach since he hasn’t worked with those with special needs before. This is his first year coaching the Scotts Bluff County Thunder group.

“It’s been really good,” West said. “It’s a good experience for me.”

West was involved in the Gering Up basketball program where he coached his daughters until the junior high age.

“Basically, what we have tried to do since October is develop their skills,” West said.

The group practices every Wednesday for an hour and a half.

“We do dribbling, passing and shooting skills and then we split into 3x3 and play half-court basketball,” West said.

He said he took two teams down to Lincoln for the state games. He said there are 14 athletes.

Each team will play two games and there will be two divisions. West assessed their skills and wrote up his decision on how to split the teams based on the assessment.

West said he is excited to see what the state games are like. He has been told it’s a neat experience.

“Athletes enjoy it because they are around some athletes that have the same issues as they do,” West said.