By TESA GLASS firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Playtime skills were put to the test on Tuesday during the Young Athletes event Tuesday at the Benjamin Franklin Early Childhood Center.
“The goal of Young Athletes is a celebration of the youth,” said Bailey Brenner, coordinator of Young Athletes. “They have been practicing skills all year, and today, they get to show those skills to their friends and family.”
Young Athletes has been a part of the program at Benjamin Franklin Early Childhood Center for the last two years. The program itself has been in existence for four years.
“Young Athletes is done all over the state,” Brenner said. “There are 12,000 students who participate statewide. We’re very proud that the Young Athletes program in Illinois is the largest in the nation.”
Young Athletes is a feeder program of Special Olympics.
“Youth Athletes is an all-inclusive group,” Brenner explained. “Those traditional athletes who qualify for Special Olympics can transition to that program when they become 8-years-old. At this age, all students are learning to be unified partners and learn to cheer each other in their activities.”
A unified partner is an athlete who does not quality for Special Olympics, but works side-by-side with special athletes to encourage and help develop skills.
“Special Olympics is developing more school-based programs with unified sports,” Brennen said. “There are several sports, like soccer and golf that are already unified.”
The Young Athletes program was piloted in 2006, Brenner said.
Before starting to show their skills with events like jumping, balance beam, obstacle course, kicking a ball, throwing beanbags through hoops or hitting a ball with a tennis racquet, students recited the Special Olympics pledge.
“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”