ASHLAND, Ore.– An announcement by Special Olympics Oregon on Monday shocked volunteers and athletes alike by the weight of it’s declaration – the 2018 State Games have been canceled.
The suspension of the summer games will be felt by nearly 14,000 participants across the state, many of which have been training for this exact moment. In Jackson County, some local athletes have felt discouraged by the realization of what this all means.
“It’s really… a bummer that the athletes can’t compete,” said Eric Thompson, a Special Olympics athlete.
For over 40 years, the organization has provided opportunities for those living with intellectual disabilities to have an outlet to compete with their peers in sport they’re passionate about. At no cost to the athletes, many participate well into their 60’s, according to Special Olympics Oregon.
Thompson, 32, has been a part of it for almost two decades. Joining 18 years ago, he’s been to every summer state games until now. He says that it’s quite a loss for everyone, especially the future generations of athletes that will miss out this year.
“By knowing people from Special Olympics, they have an opportunity to learn a new skill and a sport that they love,” he said.
According to the press release, the summer games were canceled after financial reviews discovered there weren’t enough funds to put on the event. Chief Financial Officer Lori Van Dyke, who arrived on June 1 as new executive leadership with CEO Britt Carlson Oase, found there was a revenue shortfall in the 2018 budget.
“Once we opened the books, we found significant challenges facing the organization,” said Van Dyke. “In recent years, record management, processes and accounting practices were not well maintained.”
Oase also commented saying that it was a difficult decision but executives felt that in order to keep delivering on the organization’s mission, a reevaluation of funds needed to be made.
“We have searched for every possible scenario that paints a better picture, but this is where we are,” she said. “It is important that Special Olympics Oregon be a good community partner to all stakeholders, including our athletes and their families, volunteers, schools, the many supporters we have in law enforcement, the corporate community, donors and vendors.”
Jason Belhumeur, a coach for athletes in Jackson County, said he knew there were some who would be saddened by this news but that many, including himself, were understanding of why this happened.
“I think it’s easy to forget how big of an accomplishment these state games are when they do go off and how many difficulties go into that, into the logistics of it,” he said. “I think having been to many of them, I get to see firsthand the struggles that they’re dealing with.”
Belhumeur became involved with Special Olympics after his sister, Katie, joined for track and field eight years ago.
As a runner, Belhumeur says Katie likes the personal growth that athletes can get from the practices and the state games themselves. What she loves the most though, is the community aspect involved in Special Olympics and how being a part of the organization is about more than the competition.
“You kind of become part of a family when you’re there and it’s an amazing experience,” he said. “The love that the athletes have for each other and for their coaches and just for the community that’s a part of it.”
According to Belhumeur, in Jackson County, 106 athletes were set to attend the summer games. Katie, however, wasn’t planning on participating this year.
Some are still discouraged by not having the games to look forward to. Belhuemeur says that many parent’s may be disappointed by the cancellation and the chance the broader community would have had to see the games.
“It’s a big loss to not have this this year,” said Belhumeur. “But I think it’s also a big loss for people that would have had a chance to see it.”
Belhumeur says that in the mean time, they will still be training and preparing for the next meet. Whether that will be regionals, state games or something earlier in the fall, Jackson County athletes will be ready.
The cancellation of the state games will not affect Team Oregon, a delegation of 44 athletes across the state. They will still attend the 2018 USA Games in Seattle this July.
Over the summer, Oase will be making her way around the state to meet with communities and local programs to “listen, learn and share” ideas and goals they have for the organization. She says the organization will do what it can to support all of the programs as well.
“We will need the help of our partners and supporters as we move forward and they have my commitment to making it happen. We have a constituency that is counting on us to get this right.”
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