Special Olympics – the smile says it all

Published 10:00 pm Friday, May 2, 2014

Until last year, Special Olympics programs had been absent in Polk County for some time. Then, Jane Ollis jump-started the event. This year’s competition was held April 25 at Polk County High School. Sixty-four athletes participated in various track and field events.
“Two of my favorite things,“ Ollis said, “are special needs children and sports, so this is the perfect combination.” In addition, the emotional rewards are invaluable. Ollis, who has taught special education for many years, and whose husband, Bruce, was the Wolverines’ football coach for a dozen, has plenty of background, but even she couldn’t coordinate everything.

 Polk County High School student volunteers and athletes bring in the torch during the opening ceremonies.

Polk County High School student volunteers and athletes bring in the torch during the opening ceremonies.

In addition to help from several faculty members, Ollis received a large boost from Polk senior and football standout, Reece Schlabach, who coordinated the efforts of some 140 volunteers.
The Polk County event was not Jane Ollis’s first venture into Special Olympics. “I’ve taught special education for 33 years,” she said, much of that experience coming during her current stint at Edneyville Elementary School in Henderson County.
Four years ago, Ollis was asked to coordinate the Henderson County Special Olympics. Teams included cheerleading, golf and bowling. Ollis just happens to be Polk County High School’s cheerleading coach. Along with Bruce Ollis’s football coaching at the school, re-starting the Special Olympics program here was practically scripted.
“It’s fabulous,” said Ollis. “We have a good work force here (at PCHS). It made planning the Olympic games easy. The spring games are such an unbelievable experience, for athletes and volunteers,” Ollis said. “I wanted Polk County to have the opportunity to have spring games.”
Events for the spring games included 25 and 50-meter walks and races, 200-meter run, 4×100-meter relay, standing and running long jump and shot put. The 64 athletes included some Polk County vocational students and clients.
Community support is key for such events to be successful. Was that the case here? “Absolutely!” responded Ollis, who noted that TD Bank, Knights of Columbus and VFW personnel were especially supportive. What are the real rewards for Ollis? “The whole day, I can’t stop smiling, to see the athletes having fun. It’s amazing. It’s also heartwarming to see the volunteers interact with the special needs athletes.”
Ollis continued,  “I read the Facebook posts (by high school student volunteers) that say it was the greatest day of their lives.” It was also a great day for Reece Schlabach, who coordinated those many volunteers. “It was awesome,” said Schlabach, “Last year, I did it for the first time. It’s exciting. It’s a reminder how good you have things.”
When Schlabach had the opportunity to become involved, he was ready. “Mrs. Ollis asked me,” he recalled. “How could I say no?” Having already played football under the leadership and inspiration of Bruce Ollis, he was ready to extend himself. “My main job,” he said, “was helping organizing volunteers.” He also helped secure the necessary equipment for the various events.
“(Initially), It was kind of hectic,” Schlabach admitted. “Sarah Phipps helped put everyone into groups.” After that, “It just came together. Once we had it down, it was good.”
Schlabach’s modesty was not lost on Jane Ollis, who praised his work. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” she began.  “He planned everything for the volunteers. He visited the Henderson County Special Olympics April 10, to see how everything should be set up.” For Polk’s Special Olympics, “He just took charge (of the volunteers). He set up events. He spoke with coaches, got equipment ready. He was invaluable.”
Last year, said Ollis, former Polk student athlete Alec Philpott coordinated the volunteers. Schlabach and Philpott, said Ollis, “are good leaders to begin with. The kids respect them. Speaking specifically about Schlabach, Ollis noted, “He’s not only a great leader, but he’s a good person.”
For Schlabach, “watching how much fun they had in something simple, like a race” was its own reward. “Just seeing that makes it all worth it.”
Those wishing to make donations to the Polk County Special Olympics can phone Ollis at 828 817 4404. For more information, visit The North Carolina Special Olympic site at SONC.net.
With Schlabach graduating this spring, he’ll be passing the torch to others. Tanner Garrett, Sarah Phipps and D. J. Twitty are in line to coordinate volunteers for next spring’s games. If Schlabach would be at Polk next year, he’d still be involved. “If I was in high school again, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

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