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IHSAA-Special Olympics Indiana a 'winning team'

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Kyle Lewis / DR illustration / Scott Richardson and submitted photos
Kyle Lewis / DR illustration / Scott Richardson and submitted photos

Jon Froman is not competitive by nature, but loves spending time with his peers. Jon, who has Down syndrome, has participated in Special Olympics’ basketball and swimming. In swimming, Jon is coached by his mother, Debbie, who finds her position quite rewarding.

“Spending time with the athletes puts a lot of things in perspective. It reminds you of what is really important in life,” said Debbie, also the coach of the Eastern Hancock swimming and diving team. “Special Olympic athletes love to win, but most of all they love the validation that comes with being part of the team.”

The Fromans are now a part of a much larger team.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana recently announced a partnership — the brainchild of the 2012-13 IHSAA Student Advisory Committee — to connect the 11,000 Special Olympics’ participants across the Hoosier State with the approximately 160,000 students involved in IHSAA athletics.

IHSAA Educational Consultant Lee Lonzo is hoping his organization’s association with Special Olympics Indiana will instill a philosophy of “servant leadership” in Indiana’s student-athletes involved in education-based athletics, and believes the impact for the members of both parties will be “profound.”

“We are hoping that through this partnership the volunteer efforts of the athletes and coaches of the IHSAA can increase the number of participants and the opportunities currently provided by Special Olympics Indiana,” said Lonzo, a former coach, athletic director and President of the IHSAA Board of Directors. “At the same time, we hope to raise awareness about respect, inclusion and anti-bullying efforts and provide financial support for Special Olympics Indiana through this partnership.”

The new partnership between the IHSAA and Special Olympics Indiana is a unique one. The IHSAA has never endorsed a service organization before, but is enthusiastic about the wide-ranging possibilities created by its new affiliation.

“This partnership will touch hundreds of lives, raise awareness about students with intellectual disabilities and serve as a means to teach servant leadership to those student athletes who have already been identified as leaders within their school communities,” said IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox. “My hope is that the general public will potentially observe a component of the IHSAA which does not receive the attention it deserves yet carries great importance.

“As educators, we have a duty to go beyond the expected and provide enrichment for our students and their communities. The activities being planned to support and engage with Special Olympics Indiana promise to fulfill our mission.”

Ally Stein, a senior track and field athlete from Hamilton Southeastern and the president of this year’s SAC, recently spoke of the mutual benefit the partnerships brings.

“We will mentor them, coach them and raise awareness about them,” she said at the reception announcing the initiative. “It is truly heart-warming with all the experiences we will get and already have had with many of these athletes.”

Washington Township’s Andrew Peterson, who ran cross country at Pike, thanked the IHSAA and SAC on behalf of Indiana’s Special Olympics’ athletes at the reception.

“It represents the bravery that we athletes need to compete to win in Special Olympics, but also when we compete to be included and be accepted in our schools, in our communities,” commented Peterson, who earned four varsity cross country letters at Pike. “…We don’t ever want your pity; we need your respect, the respect that all people with disabilities deserve.”

Among Indiana’s 92 counties, 82 currently offer Special Olympic programs. Hancock County’s program coordinator is Teresa Luttrell-Cook, a New Palestine resident since 1993.

Luttrell-Cook’s son, Brandon, began participating in Special Olympics 17 years ago. Luttrell-Cook’s husband, Tom, coaches when needed, schedules games and practices, and assists in fundraising efforts.

Fundraising is a key component of the success of Special Olympics — the organization receives no federal or state appropriated funds, it relies entirely on corporate, civic and individual donations.

Luttrell-Cook, who has been Hancock County’s coordinator since October of 2008, can be found fundraising around the county for the organization she holds in high regard.

“We all really believe in Special Olympics and we want Hancock County’s program to be something special for our group of special athletes,” said Luttrell-Cook, who also served as Secretary on the Hancock County Special Olympics board. “Tom, Brandon and I know each athlete and we can attest (that) they are truly very special.”

Lonzo, who worked closely with the SAC in its decision, listed volunteerism, awareness and fundraising as specific goals in the partnership.

“Special Olympics Indiana currently does a fantastic job of providing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in athletics,” he said. “…One of the goals of the partnership is to encourage athletes and coaches at the 410 IHSAA member schools to volunteer at the county level as coaches, mentors, officials, workers and even as ‘Fans in the Stands.’”

Luttrell-Cook is hopeful about the new enterprise between the IHSAA and Special Olympics Indiana.

“While participating in Special Olympics isn’t really about winning or losing,” Luttrell-Cook offered, “these two organizations will make a winning team.”

Four million athletes partake in Special Olympics’ activities in 170 countries worldwide, showcasing their ability on grand stages.

Special Olympics Indiana offers 24 different sports ranging from soccer and volleyball to alpine skiing and ballroom dancing.

Froman said the highlight of the year for her family is attending the Summer Games, which will be held June 7-9 at Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and other locations.

During the opening ceremonies there’s a parade featuring celebrities, a torch lighting and the Special Olympics athlete’s oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

“The oath that the athletes take is very special,” Froman said.


Founded: 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President Kennedy’s sister.

Where: 170 countries.

Who: Nearly 4 million participants worldwide (11,000 in Indiana) ages eight and up.

What: 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports.

Contact: Teresa Luttrell-Cook, Hancock County Coordinator at (317) 861-9316 or at TTCook@msn.com.

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