Growing and Soaring
Published: February 7, 2013
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Mondays are a special night at the Scranton School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children in Clarks Summit, when upwards of 40 players from Special Olympics Area P fill the school's gym for basketball practice.
"Last year, I met with Doug Boersma, a director up there, and he offered his facility for basketball," said Joe Lillis, manager of Special Olympics Area P, the local chapter of the organization. "We had 25 to 30 kids there last year. We have more people there this year."
It is not the first time that Special Olympics Area P has come to the greater Abington area for a sports program.
Soccer is played during the fall at the school, while golf is played at Rock Creek Golf Course in Nicholson, where Lackawanna Trail plays its home matches.
Tennis has a home at the Waverly Community House while equestrian is held at Newton. While track and field doesn't have a set practice site, Lillis said Tunkhannock has been used once a year for the Special Olympians.
Special Olympics Area P, one of 56 statewide groups and the one that encompasses Lackawanna, Wyoming, Susquehanna, Wayne and Pike counties, has many sites for its variety of sports. Bowling is held at Valley Lanes in Childs, skiing at Elk Mountain and Big Bea and swimming at the University of Scranton and Delaware Valley High School.
"We're always looking to add sports, but it's hard to find the right facility and volunteer staff," Lillis said. "Slowly but surely, we're growing."
Lillis said the organization is seeking to add bocce, which shows how far the Special Olympics has come. The group has grown far since he began his involvement about 15 years ago.
"My son Bobby is a special needs athlete," Lillis said. "We went to a golf course, and we saw Special Olympians on the driving range."
That day, at what used to be called Kimaquan, now known as Rock Creek, began Lillis' involvement in the Special Olympics.
"It's a lot of fun," Lillis said. "The kids are a lot of fun, and it's very rewarding."
One of the challenges facing such groups is getting volunteers, but Lillis said that numbers are good for basketball this season.
"The number of volunteers varies from time to time, but coaches from the Abington Heights football team have their players volunteer for us," Lillis said. "They are a bunch of wonderful kids. We're always looking for more volunteers."
It has added up to a rewarding cooperative effort in the area.
"People from the Abingtons have been great to us," Lillis said. "The people that run the Scranton School have been great."
As the Special Olympics have grown with the passing of time, Lillis continues to have high hopes for further expansion of the organization. There is plenty to look forward to accomplishing at the local level, with some higher-level competitions on the horizon.
The local chapter's growth will be evident as it anticipates sending an 18- to 20-member ski team to the Winter Games next weekend in Johnstown. Also, the group is likely to send an equestrian team to the Summer Games for the first time this year, another milestone for the Area P group.
"We've had the team for the last three years, and this will be the first trip to Penn State," Lillis said.
There are a variety of events and Lillis said about 45 or so athletes may qualify for the Summer Games held at Penn State University each June.
"We'll have about 60 go to sectionals, which are held at Kutztown," Lillis said.
In addition to the Winter and Summer Games, there is a Fall Festival that is usually hosted by Villanova University. There are many outlets for the group's many athletes and cooperative efforts like The Scranton School's involvement just expands the reach of Special Olympics Area P.