The Oregon Special Olympics announced last June that they would be suspending all games for the time being, citing major financial issues. According to The Oregonian, hundreds of thousands of dollars were mismanaged, leading to the decision to cancel the events. This meant that about 1,500 athletes did not get the chance to compete. For many of these athletes, the Special Olympics is one of the only times they can use their talents in competition. The Oregonian also stated that many of the athletes are not able to understand the budget constraints, and were disappointed to learn they would not be able to compete with their friends.
Rachel Kong, a senior at Willamette who is an exercise science major and has played tennis all four years for the Bearcats, found a solution for these athletes. Exercise science majors are allowed to partake in charity work while working on their senior thesis projects. Kong chose to coordinate three fundraising events in support of Special Olympics. She planned for three events to take place, with one taking place last year and another taking place this past Saturday, Feb. 16 at Sparks Athletics Center.
Kong found motivation for her Special Olympics fundraiser last summer. Working with a Special Olympics athlete at PT Northwest, a physical therapy facility in Salem, she discovered that the Special Olympics was canceled. This inspired her to seek a solution by hosting an event at Willamette. Kong’s event was not restricted to just Salem. She said, “I wanted to bring in people from all of Marion County, so more athletes get a chance to participate.”
Last year, a similar Special Olympics event took place but only two athletes participated. For Kong’s first event last year, 33 athletes participated. Gearing up for this past Saturday’s event, student-athletes from the WU volleyball team, and other staff members from Sparks gym raised money for the event through selling WU sports T-shirts and sweaters. WU basketball spectators were also able to donate to the event as donation collectors walked through the stands during the men’s and women’s basketball games two weeks ago on Saturday, Feb. 9.
This past Saturday, nearly 40 athletes showed up to the event. The coaching was led by Willamette’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Rob Passage. He was supported by students and faculty of the MBA program and the men’s basketball team. The coaches and athletes did drills together during the clinic. When the event was over, the entire men’s basketball team was able to spend some time with the special olympics athletes. The athletes then stayed to watch the men and women’s basketball teams play their games in which they were able to pull off the win.
Kong plans to have having one more fundraising event, which she says will most likely be at the end of April or beginning of May. She hopes to garner more attention to this cause. Be sure to be on the lookout for more information in the coming months.