WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Kansas Special Olympics Summer Games returns to Maize South High School this weekend. The games commenced with soccer, tennis, and cycling Friday afternoon, followed by the opening ceremony in the evening. The track and field meet will begin Saturday morning.
This year’s games have 200 more athletes than in 2022. Kansas Special Olympics CEO John Lair says about 1,600 people from all over the state travel to Wichita to attend.
Participation rates have increased after new activities are added, including this year’s wrestling exhibition during the opening ceremony. Seeing the games expand is a large part of the organization’s mission.
“It’s unbelievable to see the progress of this movement,” says Lair. “Our athletes are at the forefront of what we’re doing, and inclusion and everybody being involved and everybody having the chance to compete is really what we’re all about. They just want to be part of something big, and this is the biggest stage you can be on here in the state.”
To add to the event’s excitement, 500 volunteers work behind the scenes to cheer athletes on, hand out medals, and help with awards. Lair guarantees to anyone considering attending or volunteering, “You’ll leave with a smile.”
Long-time volunteer Mike Vess says, “For a lot of them, it’s really tough to be here and compete. They overcome a lot to do it, and it’s just fun to see that in them. For anyone considering volunteering, when you’ve done it your first time, you’ll be back, and you’ll realize, ‘I get a lot more out of this than I’m putting into it.’ It’s a wonderful time.”
The organization also has a tradition of selecting the Most Inspiration Athlete at the end of each game. Last year, a brother-sister duo shared the award.
2022 awardees’ mom TJ Will says she’s seen the amount of growth her children have undergone over their last 20 years of participation.
“Our kids don’t get all of the opportunities that other kids get in school and college, and just for them to be able to come out and participate, whether they win or not, they have a blast,” explains Will.
Lair says the event is still accepting more volunteers for Saturday’s track and field meet. They also continue to find more ways to grow. They already plan to add pickleball and cornhole to the list of sports in the future.