By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Proceeds from today’s golf tournament on behalf of the Gainesville Independent School District Special Olympics organization is the key boost in getting 16 of its athletes to Arlington.
Organizer Maria Nava said the organization, formed three years ago as a companion group to the Cooke County VIPs, presents the tournament as a fundraiser to help pay for a trip to Arlington’s Special Olympics “Spring Games” meet on April 19-20, at University of Texas at Arlington.
Advance tickets on today’s event raised around $3,000 in net proceeds, which Nava said will feed and house the 16 Olympians for two nights during the meet. The one-day golf tournament is a contrast to the group’s moneymaking activities of the past, which have included candy sales.
But the formation of the Gainesville ISD group, she added, originally occurred as a way to assist entire families.
“We had so many kids who would benefit, but with the VIPs, it’s kind of hard for some of their parents,” she said, adding that the GISD group is made exclusively of school-age children, where VIPs has both kids and adults. “My thought was that we’d have more Gainesville community kids involved if it were on a school day, during the P.E. time.”
The Cooke County VIPs formed locally more than two decades ago, and generally confines its activities to Saturday.
“A lot of our parents work on the weekend,” Nava said. “They work at Walmart and Chicken Express and would not be able to take their kids to practice.”
Despite the scheduling differences, both the Gainesville ISD group and the county’s VIPs group maintain coordination with local educators. Both utilize several volunteers from the school district, including athletic coaches, who attend meets and get involved with their organization.
Their ongoing efforts are part of a much larger and consistent network that began more than 40 years ago. The Special Olympics recreation events began in Texas in 1969, in Waco. Today, more than 250 competitions occur annually statewide and, as with today’s golf tournament, participants receive special shirts and awards.
But as with any other athletic endeavor, the participation lends its own reward.
“When you see them running and they’re just as happy as they can be with people cheering, that’s what it’s for,” Nava said Friday. “That’s what it’s for. It’s for them.”
For more information about Special Olympics groups in Texas, visit www.sotx.org.