On Your Mark: Ozark Special Olympics Opens up Opportunities
Ozark Middle School sixth-grader Ashlynn Oaks has a big smile on her face as she runs down the lane and leaps into the sand. The long jump is one of her favorite events, along with the shot put, the javelin throw and the 100-meter dash.
“It’s fun,” she says during a break in practice.
Ashlynn is one of 11 Ozark athletes who competed in the Special Olympics Track & Field Southwest Area Competition April 20 in Carl Junction.
“It’s just really cool to see them take ownership in being a part of an Ozark athletic team,” says Tamara Jackson, Ozark Junior High teacher. “They think it is the coolest thing that has ever happened to them that they get to come out on this track and run in an Ozark uniform. It’s absolutely heartwarming and touching, and it makes every ounce of effort everybody puts into this worth it.”
Special education teachers at OJH, Ozark Middle School and Ozark High School started Ozark Special Olympics in the 2016-17 school year to expose students to organized sports.
“I think that Ozark Special Olympics is all about inclusion and about athletics,” Erin McElroy, OHS teacher says. “We are a district full of athletes and sports and this is just another thing for us to say, ‘Wow, look at our kids. They’re great.’ They are just wonderful athletes.”
Ozark Special Olympics includes bowling in the fall, basketball in the winter and track & field in the spring.
“She just eats this up. She looks forward to it. Basketball for the past two years has gotten the gold medal,” says Melissa Oaks, Ashlynn’s mom, adding that her daughter has participated in every sport and season offered. “The coaches volunteer. They take their time out to be with these children that love this … We appreciate them. They’ve done an awesome job teaching them the skills of basketball, learning to play together — it’s been awesome.”
As the team grows, so do the buddies — students who volunteer to help during Ozark Special Olympic practices and events.
“I wanted to be a buddy because one of my brothers actually had Ms. Jackson as a teacher. I just thought it would be fun to get to see them do what every other kid gets to do and just enjoy themselves and smile,” buddy Shelbee Schrock said.
As the program grows, the coaches hope that community support and awareness grow as well.
“This is an opportunity for our kids who may struggle academically to give their all, to be a winner,” says Alex Beckman, Ozark Middle School teacher.
For more information, find Ozark Special Olympics on Facebook.