Brandon's Blog: A Gold Medal Winning Special Olympics

May 14, 2014

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

It was easy over the three hours of the recent Washtenaw County Special Olympics to forget this event is about individuals with special needs. It was festooned with celebration. It was a sporting event of athletes competing at the highest level possible.

The Special Olympics creates an aura of excitement that so many individuals and families thought would never exist. These young men and women with special needs compete in activities other young people rarely have the opportunity to experience, so they have created something they can call their own. Special Olympics provides an opportunity for individuals with special needs to be athletes. They experience the same thrills, excitement, satisfaction, happiness and disappointment that all other athletes learn to embrace.

Special Olympics is more than just one day of camaraderie and competition. Just like recreational sports, practices and social events keep these young people engaged throughout the year. They are coached by individuals who teach them to work out, get better at their sport, and learn how to interact with more confidence in social settings.

The organization is committed to fostering long-term fitness and healthy lifestyle choices. It works to break down barriers and develop skills and build self-esteem, all while participating in fun activities and eating healthy. It is what sports should be about, and it is just one of the many good reasons the University of Michigan Athletic Department decided to partner with the Washtenaw County Chapter of the Special Olympics of Michigan to support one of their special events.

On Tuesday (May 13) at Saline High School, more than 150 athletes participated in this annual competition, and for the second time the U-M Athletic Department supported this event.

When our athletic department team members looked at how we could best serve a charitable cause in our community, the Special Olympics of Washtenaw County provided a perfect fit. With our knowledge and background of the 31 teams we support, we are in a unique position to provide event management coordination, meaningful training and competition coordination assistance.

Our partnership also provides Special Olympics with added awareness, something every organization needs. The number of participants and volunteers has increased. And with the added awareness, donations have also increased substantially. However, we can do more!

There are still too many families with disabled children that are not aware of what Special Olympics can provide. And there are even more families that are hesitant to get involved because they worry about the costs associated with participation in Special Olympics.

After all, families who have a child with a disability already face challenges with finances. Those families need to know that with Special Olympics you don't "pay to play." This is a major reason why Special Olympics relies so heavily on donations and community support.

There is a need for expansion of these programs. More volunteers and more donations would give Washtenaw County Special Olympics a chance to give more young people an opportunity to compete and maybe have a chance to participate at the national level or even the world games!

During Tuesday's Washtenaw County Special Olympic competition, there were tears of joy and plenty of hugs for the competitors, the families and the volunteers. Based on the amazing work being done, the goose bumps lasted a little longer, and everyone felt like smiling a little brighter after what transpired.

This was truly a gold medal winning Olympic event for the 150 athletes and their families!!

Go Blue!

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