"Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that they are exactly the person they were supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, they just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you were intended to be.”
- The Water Giver
MARSHALL COUNTY - Those sentiments can be easily understood by most any mother of a child with special needs.
For Tracie Wiley, mother of 19 year-old Alex, there’s no doubt that he, on many occasions, has taken the opportunity to teach her a thing or two about life.
Alex, a senior at Marshall County High School, is one of many local students and young adults who participate in Special Olympics.
Wiley says the opportunity for her son to participate in Marshall County sports gives him a confidence beyond measure.
“They want to be like everyone else,” she said of Alex’s ability to play basketball and bowl on a league - even run track and field.
With athletic opportunities available now most year-round, members recently had the opportunity to participate in bowling, the season having started back in August.
This past weekend, the team attended regional competition and is now preparing to go to state at the end of November.
Steady in their preparations, the team met most every Monday evening under the direction of Coach Rick Rosa, an instructional assistant in the MCHS Special Education Department. The team bowled at Cardinal Lanes in Paducah where they polished their skills for at least an hour and a half each day.
“They would bowl two frames, some using ramps, some bowling without,” Wiley said. “We always have volunteers that go along to help them so that everyone, no matter how severe their disability, gets to participate and compete.”
Wiley said the rewards come in far more forms that just earned ribbons and medals. “I ride the bus with the students and they laugh and talk with you all the way. There is such an energy and excitement on Mondays.
“Whether you are helping tie a shoe, or showing them how to roll the ball down the lane, the kids are so appreciative and show such love. Their eyes just sparkle and their hearts are as wide open as their eyes. It’s amazing how they all love so unconditionally,” she said.
And it’s not just parents of the children who are reaping the rewards of helping – Wiley said other students often find the benefits of volunteering their time.
“We have a few students who are going into education who have decided to help us out,” she said - adding that the students have been very moved by the whole experience.
Of the importance of finding people willing to volunteer, Wiley said it’s crucial to the organization’s ability to continue to offer the programs.
“There is this one little boy who has to have assistance to roll the ball,” she said. “He just needs someone to help him get it down there and roll it because he doesn’t care where it goes or if he knocks any pins down, he just gets the biggest grin on his face when he lets it go - and then he always turns to hug whoever is helping him.”
After all, that’s really what it is all about for the participants – feeling special, included and normal just like everyone else.
“They want to feel as if someone is taking time to focus on them – that they are important,” she said. “All you have to do is take a little time to encourage a child, cheer them on and tell them they are doing a good job and you will have a friend for life.”
Of the 35 participants who started out this year, 25 went to regional competition, many earning ribbons and top placement rankings earning them a spot among some of the most celebrated athletes in Marshall County Sports.
Following bowling season, the Special Olympics team will transition into basketball season, an activity Wiley said the group, especially her Alex, is definitely looking forward to.
Coach Jonny Byrd, a licensed KHSAA official, will be serving as head coach for the basketball team. Ezra Cox, a professional Special Education Service Provider and Certified Substitute teacher for the Marshall County School System, serves as Track and Field Coach for the group.
Wiley notes despite having great coaches on board, the students can't do this alone.
If you or your organization is interested in volunteering to help the Special Olympics athletes, you can find information, schedules and contact numbers at the group's website www.mcsoky.org.
“Whether you are helping them shoot a basketball or tying their shoes, you are helping these students and young adults to achieve goals they never could accomplish before and that’s being a part of Marshall County Sports - that hasn’t always been possible." Wiley added, "All they really need is a little help from us.”