special olympics

Photo courtesy of Special Olympics Northern California

Special Olympics Northern California athletes are pictured here during a previous competition. State residents are pushing for Special Olympics to be included in a revised version of the state budget.

When local athletes go for their next medal at their next Special Olympics competition, whether it is virtual or after physical competitions resume, they’re counting on being able to have that opportunity as they have in the past, as an activity that is free for themselves and their teammates.

However, Special Olympics funding was cut from the 2020-21 state budget in a move that takes away the only resource it had to provide virtual activities, distance education and other programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as funding to allow them to compete in tournaments if competitions are allowed to take place once it is safe to do so.

As a result, California voters are asking to include Special Olympics California in the revised state budget in a move that would help over 64,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities, according to a press release by Special Olympics California.

“Our ability to effectively serve athletes and the intellectual disabilities community will largely be determined by the financial support and partnership with the State of California,” said Special Olympics California Presidents and CEOs Bill Shumard and David Solo. “Without continued funding from the state, we would need to identify alternative revenue options to support the athletes that we serve in California. We need our elected officials to prioritize the essential needs of our athletes, especially during this devastating global pandemic.”

Colleen Wilson, the team manager of the Galt Chiefs Special Olympics team, noted the impact of Special Olympics funding.

“They use all the funding so the athletes don’t have to pay for anything so families and athletes can participate without the fear of not being able to continue it,” Wilson said. “They need things that are offered to them that keeps them healthy and active at no cost.”

In addition to the exclusion from the 2020-21 state budget, Special Olympics California was also hit by decreased resources as a result of the pandemic.

In addition to a big decline in corporate donations and contributions from individuals, “dozens of fundraising events throughout California were cancelled due to COVID-19 health concerns,” according to the release. All of this combined to result in a loss of over $1 million in needed revenue.

In addition to competitions, even practices are affected by Special Olympics funds, Wilson noted.

“Special Olympics will pay for facilities to practice at and they will pay for equipment we need, so it impacts us hugely. The biggest impact for Galt is the competitions. It’s one competition per sport. It’s a tournament so they get to play three games,” Wilson said. “The meets and competitions are what impact us the most.”

COVID has already stopped competitions this summer, including the Special Olympics Summer Games. Before the pandemic, the Chiefs would have competed at U.C. Davis in sports including track and swimming.

The state has provided an average of $6 million annually since 2016, according to the Special Olympics.

If state residents wish to help, they can write to elected officials by going to www.californiaspecialolympics.org, where they will find a pre-written email that they’ll be able to send and personalize if they wish.

“Special Olympics is a community for special needs athletes. It’s hugely beneficial for them to feel like they have a community. We always encourage anybody who is eight years old and above to come on out,” said Wilson, whose son started participating nine years ago. “We invite all special needs athletes to try any of our programs.” If Galt athletes are interested in participating in Special Olympics, they can contact Wilson at galtaces@gmail.com.