Special Olympics coach Jack Brosius addressed the Chestertown Council on the upcoming Special Olympics state kayak championships, to be held on the Chester River Aug. 10 and 24.
Brosius gave a brief history of his involvement in kayaking, beginning with his participation in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. He has been coaching since 1976. He retired to the Chestertown area in 2003, when one of his neighbors recruited him as a Special Olympics coach. In addition to kayaking, he coaches powerlifting and swimming.
The state competition will be held over two weekends. On Saturday, Aug. 10, there will be time trials to determine heats for the competition. Special Olympics rules limit the number of competitors in a heat to six, who must have trial times within 10 percent of one another from fastest to slowest, “so that everyone has a fair chance,” Brosius said. Each event may have as many as 15 to 20 heats, depending on the number who want to participate.
Saturday, Aug. 24 is the statewide championship. Races are held at four distances: 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 meters. Medals are awarded for the top three in each heat, with ribbons for the other three finishers. Most of the competitors are individual paddlers in single kayaks, but there are also events for “unified teams,” in which a person without special needs teams with a person with special needs.
This will be the 8th year that the championships will be held at the Washington College boathouse. This is “a premier facility,” matched only by the multi-million dollar Olympic competition sites in Gainesville, Ga., Oklahoma City and Long Beach, Cal., Brosius said.
“We are expecting about 150 athletes from across the state of Maryland, plus 18 to 20 from Pennsylvania, where there is no such Special Olympics kayaking program,” Brosius said. There will also be another 100 coaches and supporters, plus 30 to 40 volunteers to run the events.
Brosius thanked Washington College for supporting the Special Olympics kayak events, as well as allowing the swimmers in the summer program to train in its pool. The college also hosts the annual Special Olympics high school unified sports statewide bocce tournament at Kirby Stadium each May. The tournament brings in about 175 high school students with special needs, who are teamed with athletes without special needs.
“We are currently working with about 30 athletes from this area,” who take part in swimming, cycling, kayaking, and powerlifting, he said. About two-thirds of the local athletes compete in the Special Olympics, and the program remains open to anyone with special needs who wishes to participate. The athletes cover an age range from 11 to 50, he said, with a wide range of special needs. Many are clients of Kent Center. The program tries to make its activities affordable for all, raising funds to cover the costs of insurance, equipment, uniforms, and other needs. The national Special Olympics program does not provide funds for the local programs, which are dependent on grants and donations from their communities.
The programs are also dependent on many volunteers – “we can always use more,” Brosius said. He thanked members of the Washington College swim team and the Sho’men junior swim team, who work with the Special Olympic swimmers.
Brosius then introduced Pat Cullinan, the regional director for Special Olympics of Maryland, who gave an overview of the program and its goals.
Cullinan said he had been a Special Olympics volunteer for 20 years before becoming a staff member of the state organization, responsible for the programs in the Northern Chesapeake region, including Harford, Cecil, and Kent counties. He noted that Special Olympics, founded 51 years ago by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is now an international organization with programs in 172 countries. He quoted the program’s mission, “to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.” Though the original focus was –and still is– on those with intellectual challenges, athletes with physical disabilities are also welcome.
The program’s goal in Kent County “is simply to grow and advance the county organization,” Cullinan said. He expressed gratitude for Brosius’s years of service, calling him “the face of Special Olympics in Kent County.” He went on to give a summary of the program’s efforts to reach those with special needs at an early age, starting as young as three years old and progressing through school into adulthood “to age 80.”
Cullinan stressed the program’s need for volunteers. “The people we need to build this organization are here. It’s just a matter of them becoming aware of the program” and identifying a fit for their interests and talents. He said the goal was also to recruit more athletes and to make more sports and “higher quality and more frequent” competitions available to them. He said he had met with Sheriff John Price and Police Chief Adrian Baker to discuss participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, in which law officers carry a torch from county to county to raise awareness of Special Olympics. He also mentioned the annual Polar Bear Plunge, a winter fundraiser for the program held at Sandy Point State Park.
Mayor Chris Cerino asked about details of the kayaking championships. Brosius said the event begins at 9:30 a.m., with opening ceremonies at 10. College President Kurt Landgraf will give the opening speech, after which the competition will go until 5 or 6 p.m. He said it would be especially helpful to have some additional volunteers near the end of the afternoon when those who had been there all day are losing energy. “When you work with these athletes, you never forget the experience,” he said.
“It’s a great thing,” said Cerino. “I would encourage everyone here to check it out.” Anyone who would like to volunteer either for the upcoming events or for future activities should visit the Maryland Special Olympics website or contact Brosius at email@example.com.
Picture Gallery of Special Olympics Bocce Tournament at Washington College, May 2018 – Photos by Jane Jewell.