Athletes gear up for summer games at Harding University

By Angela Spencer Published May 22, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Angela Spencer

Caleb Cook, left, gets some pointers from Special Olympics Arkansas Director Sally Paine before practicing throwing a softball in preparation for the summer games.

Tonight, a celebration will be going on at Harding University. The football stadium is expected to fill with the cheers of fans and the roar of motorcycles as athletes make their way through the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics Arkansas Summer Games. The event is just the start of a weekend of activities, and athletes and fans alike feed off the opening-ceremony energy every year, Clay Beason said.

Beason, one of the assistant football coaches at Harding University, will serve as facility liaison this year for Special Olympics. He has been involved as facility liaison for several years, and before that, he and his wife were dorm managers for seven years for the athletes who stayed on campus.

“The opening ceremonies are really a sight to see and hear,” Beason said. “The athletes march around our stadium. There’s a lot of energy and excitement. It’s just a neat, neat evening.”

The ceremony, at 7:30 tonight, will kick off a weekend for athletes with intellectual disabilities to have the chance to compete in six Olympic-type sports in order to have “opportunities to develop physical fitness; demonstrate courage; experience joy; and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community,” the mission of Special Olympics Arkansas states.

The summer games will continue Friday and Saturday with the approximately 2,000 athletes competing in powerlifting, golf, flag football, softball, bocce, aquatics and athletics, which is similar to track and field.

Among the athletes who have been training for these events are several students at The Sunshine School in Searcy. Jason Duncan and Anna Matthews have been practicing bocce, and they said they are excited about the games.

In addition to the competitions, athletes will have the chance to participate in the Healthy Athletes program, which gives them access to physical exams, as well as health screenings for podiatry, physical therapy, hearing, vision and dentistry services.

Beason said that with athletes, coaches and fans, Special Olympics Arkansas officials expect between 3,000 and 4,000 people to visit the facilities each day of the games. Incidentally, the events are always in need of volunteers to help give out awards to athletes, pick up trash, referee games and hand out food.

“There are all levels of volunteering,” he said. “You can volunteer for 30 minutes. You can volunteer for three hours. You can volunteer for the duration of the games.”

Sally Paine, director of Special Olympics Arkansas, reiterated that volunteers are needed in all areas of the event.

“We have seven different events,” she said. “It takes a lot to make this happen.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can either contact Beason at or (501) 279-4061 or arrive at the games and locate the volunteer booth the day of the event.

Beason also said that Harding University will be starting SO College, an organized network to help connect college students with individuals with intellectual disabilities through sports. The goal is to build friendships and continue on the ideals of Special Olympics through inclusive sports, youth leadership and opportunities for full campus involvement.

“They maybe are on some teams together having fun. Maybe the college students help these special athletes in their training, or they just hang out with them,” Beason said, “just another connection to help both parties involved.”

For anyone who wants to participate, SO College will start at Harding University in the fall.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

Zoned Editions Staff Writer Angela Spencer can be reached at 501-244-4307 or

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