Special Olympics going outside as it works toward normalcy

By George Slaughter, Special to the Katy Times
Posted 7/15/21

Special Olympics Texas is taking things outside as it recaptures its pre-pandemic normal.

The focus on outdoor sports is one precaution Special Olympics is taking. Another is pushing out the …

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Special Olympics going outside as it works toward normalcy


Special Olympics Texas is taking things outside as it recaptures its pre-pandemic normal.

The focus on outdoor sports is one precaution Special Olympics is taking. Another is pushing out the schedule. Summer games were reset to September. Fall games were reset to October.

The sport receiving local attention now is bocce. Program Coordinator Aaron Keith said bocce tournaments are set for every Monday through July 26 at the Pearland Parks and Recreation Center.

The outdoor sport has European origins but is popular worldwide.

Keith said a Houston-area community-wide “return to play” celebration is being planned for Aug. 4.

Local volunteers helping local athletes

Katy-area volunteers are helping make things happen, Keith said. One local supporter is Harris County Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap. Keith said Heap’s son, Andrew, is an athlete who participates in Special Olympics. Heap volunteers through coaching and serving as an official during games.

“(Heap) is a jack of all trades,” Keith said.

One of the athletes Heap has coached is Shelby Day. Shelby is a 31-year-old Katy resident with a rare chromosomal disorder. Her parents, Steve Day and Kari Day, are her guardians.

Kari said her daughter is part of the Katy Wolf Pack team. Katy has several Special Olympics teams, including the Katy Blue Angels, Katy Comets and Katy Development Clinic.

Kari said her daughter has competed in basketball, softball and bowling. Special Olympics athletes can take part in only one port sport per season.

“Her favorite sports are swimming and equestrian,” Kari said.

Shelby has participated in therapeutic horseback riding for more than 20 years, Day said.

This year, Shelby and her father are playing golf. Shelby and Steve play through a nine-hole course. Shelby takes a swing, then Steve takes a swing.

“It’s pretty cool,” Kari said. “She’s having fun. They usually practice on Mondays, but have missed the past couple of Mondays because of the rain.”

Some school districts enable Special Olympics athletes to train with regular student-athletes. Such arrangements enable both sides to learn from each other. Kari said Katy Independent School District bylaws prevent a local arrangement.

Shelby's story as a Special Olympics athlete is remarkable in itself. But there's more to her story. She is also an advocate. Kari said Shelby asked Superintendent Ken Gregorski and trustee Rebecca Fox to consider changing those bylaws.

Shelby has also spoken at the state Capitol in Austin and the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, she spoke with elected leaders via Zoom.

“She basically talks about how much she appreciates the support from the government and what she does in terms of sports,” Kari said. “She wears her medals. But it’s not just the sports that she talks about.”

Day said the Special Olympics provides dentists and eye doctors at the games. Not all athletes’ families have the money or insurance to get dental or eye care.

“We have always participated in that, even though we have insurance,” Day said.

Supporting the teams and athletes

Katy-area residents also support the Special Olympics financially. One way they have done this is through the Tip a Firefighter program.

Katy Fire Department officials said firefighters in past years served chips and salsa at Los Cucos Mexican Restaurant at 5831 Highway 90 in downtown Katy. They also provided drink refills.

But they did not do it themselves. Special Olympics athletes visited tables and helped. Tips to the firefighters and athletes benefited the Special Olympics, Katy Fire Department officials said

Restaurant waitstaff took orders and delivered the entrees as usual.

Those efforts raised over $6,000 annually before the pandemic. Keith hopes to visit with Katy Fire Chief Kenneth Parker soon in hopes of resuming that tradition. Parker took over as chief earlier this year.

According to the Special Olympics website, the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain has also raised money for the Special Olympics. The chain has hosted Tip a Cop nights like the Tip a Firefighter program seen in Katy. The Texas Roadhouse in Katy, at 20840 Katy Freeway has hosted such nights in the past, a manager said Sunday.

Keith described Katy as “one of our top-grossing fundraising communities in the state.”

Special Olympics, Bocce, Aaron Keith, Ted Heap, Katy Blue Angels, Katy Comets, Katy Development Clinic, Tip a Firefighter, Tip a Cop, Katy Fire Department, Texas Roadhouse,


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