Miguel Ortega, 18, shows off his Special Olympics medals and ribbons that he's won. Ortega has been a part of the Special Olympics for a year and has won awards for track and field, Softball, and bowling.
Some of the benefits of joining the Special Olympics is that it gives their participants the opportunity to compete, socialize, and build confidence and self-esteem, according to Clovis Special Olympics Coordinator Gary Jones.
“A lot of these kids don’t have a whole lot of socialization. Some of them live in group homes and don’t get to get out much. This gives them the opportunity, especially when we go to an out-of-town event, to go and ride on the bus. It gives them the sense of being a part of a team,” said Jones.
The Clovis Special Olympics is a non-profit organization designated to give men, women, and children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in sporting events.
The Clovis Special Olympics started in the early 1980’s, according to Jones, and is area four out of five areas in New Mexico. Jones has been involved in the Special Olympics program for about 15 years.
The Clovis Special Olympics features four sports: Bowling, track and field, equestrian, and softball, which was added last year. Jones said that bowling is the most popular sport among the participants.
Jones said Clovis hosts the annual equestrian event in September every year, which is one of their bigger events that has athletes traveling from Albuquerque and Lubbock to compete.
The Special Olympics is just like any other sporting activity; it is competition-based, and it follows all of the guidelines and rules of regular sports, said Jones.
He said the program has roughly 50 athletes, which includes participants from neighboring towns like Portales. The number of athletes fluctuates every year. Currently, their oldest athlete is 75 years old.
Anybody who has a disability and qualifies can join. Participants must be at least 8 years old and pass a physicall examination. Jones said Barbara Sanchez celebrated her 50th anniversary with the Clovis Special Olympics this year. She has been an athlete since the program began in 1968.
Jones said their goal is to spread the word about the Special Olympics to get more people involved and know that the program is out there for families with special needs children or adults. And also, to help the program to continue and to grow.
Maria Chavez’s son Miguel Ortega has been involved in the Clovis Special Olympics for a year now.
“It was a good program for Miguel to join, because he’s too old to play community sports. The program helps him to feel like a normal person because he wins medals like everyone else does,” said his mother, Maria Chavez.
Jones said the Clovis Special Olympics has a lot of local support coming from organizations and businesses like Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, VFW 3280, Eagles Lodge, Cannon Air Force Base, and local churches.
Jones said the organization members are “thankful for them and greatly appreciate them. It’s organizations like these that keep the program running.”
In larger cities, funding for organizations like the Special Olympics is limited and often organizations will find themselves competing for funding, according to Jones. In Clovis, the situation is different; a lot of organizations come to them and offer to help.
Jones said the Clovis Special Olympics is always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, visit volunteerenm.org for more information.