The Unified Softball League held its annual Championship Tournament last week at J.B. Hunt Park. The tournament brings an end to another successful season. The league, which is run by Springdale Parks and Recreation, allows Special Olympic athletes to join able bodied athletes in a fun competitive athletic environment.
"The partners and the athletes, who are the special needs kids, to play together." Said Coach and Parent Bennie Horton. "It allows us to interact with them in sports and help them grow. We have seen growth over the years; kids who come in and can barely do anything actually grow and participate in the sport. "
As the Special Olympic athletes grow so does the league. The 120 athletes and partners that participated this season was an all-time high. The league is incredibly rewarding for both the athletes and their partners.
"A lot of people tell me I must have a lot of patience doing special Olympics and work with the folks I work with, but I think I’m just greedy, I enjoy these folks." Said Super Naturals Coach David Smiley. "I feel like this is where I belong, I’ve coached other teams that weren’t special needs, you feel the appreciation from the special needs more so than anywhere else."
That appreciation from the players to their partners and coaches is extremely evident by the looks on their faces when they step on the field. Long time league umpire Darrell Carter has a challenge for our viewers and readers.
"These kids are very special." Said Darrell Carter. "You can go to Razorback stadium and cheer on the Razorbacks, but I challenge you next year to come on out and watch these kids."
Springdale Parks and Recreation also puts together a Unified Volleyball League which stats back up this winter.