Couple restarts Sweet Home Special Olympics program

A Sweet Home couple is attempting to breathe new life into a local Special Olympics program that hasn’t been running for the last couple of years.

Dave Baker and his wife, Sandy Wallwork, are the coordinators for the Sweet Home program.

“The first time I came out to Sweet Home, we did the track and field out here, and we were impressed with the number of volunteers,” Baker said. He has since lived in Sweet Home for three years and would like to get Special Olympics active again.

Special Olympics is running two programs right now, a three-on-three adult basketball team, and a full-court junior basketball team.

The three-on-three team includes adults Tony Miner, Aaron Hastings and Randy Sullivan and high school athletes Rick Fanning and Zach Blatchley.

The junior team is coached by Tiffany Lambert and includes nine athletes. Tammy White is overseeing the high school portion of the Special Olympics program. Baker is coaching the three-on-three team.

The three-on-three teams are new for Special Olympics, arising from activities that included Special Olympics athletes and volunteers. They were set up to help teach basketball basics to the athletes.

Sweet Home is fielding a three-on-three team now because it lacks the numbers to field a full team, Baker said.

All three of the adults on the team are Special Olympics veterans. Miner and Hastings have both competed at the World Games. Sullivan has competed in Portland.

The current season started in December. Since then, the three-on-three team has had five or six practices and will compete for the first time at North Salem High School and Parrish Middle School in Salem on Sunday.

At this point, the local Special Olympics program needs athletes, volunteers and coaches.

“It’s hard to get it started,” Baker said. “It’s been down a few years,” but people who volunteered before are showing an interest.

In the spring season, which starts next month, Baker is hoping to have track and field, softball and golf programs up and running.

Wallwork started a golf program in Corvallis and will head up that program in Sweet Home.

In the fall, athletes will be able to compete in swimming, bowling, soccer and volleyball.

What is available depends on how many athletes want to participate.

As far as Baker’s three-on-three team, the Huskies, “they’re very good basketball players,” he said. The three-on-three concept is not new to them, and they understand the rules. There is quite a bit more running involved than in full-court. “Three-on-three is more or less non-stop sprinting from the time you start to the time you finish,” Baker said.

The full-court team involves games and “skill challenges,” in which some athletes compete in passing, ball-handling and shooting contests. The team is call the Pals.

Persons interested in getting involved in Special Olympics as a coach, volunteer or athlete may call (800) 696-4530 for information and the necessary paperwork. Athletes must complete a physical before competing.

Right now, Special Olympics is facing a budget crunch, Baker said. Ever since Sept. 11, money has been tight as funds, such as United Way, have been diverted elsewhere. Persons may contact the same number to make donations to the program.