The Waxahachie Family YMCA Angel League swim team is in full affect competing and practicing for the upcoming summer swim meets.
Shannon Crain has been working with the Special Olympics children since 2005.
“These kids compete,” said coach Shannon Crain. “We went to the swim meet last weekend in Plano-Allen and they did great.”
A big Special Olympics meet, called The Angel League Swim Meet, is coming up on Aug. 8 and will host the athletes who are training for the Special Olympics, Crain said.
“Everybody is going to participate,” Crain said. “Even the athletes in training. Athletes in training are from 7 to 5 years old. They’re too young to compete in the Special Olympics, but are considered athletes in training and will be able to compete, too.”
Other towns like Flower Mound, as well as Plano and Allen will be in town for the meet.
“We’ll have a 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke, 100-meter fly, 100-meter breaststroke and plenty of 50-meter races,” Crain said. “We’ll also have walking events and floatation races, floatation races with assistance and floatation rations without assistance. It’s all the same races as a swim team.”
The meet will have officials and time keepers to track the speed of all the racers.
For the upcoming meet, Crain is training the individual athletes to compete, she said.
“Right now, we’re working on their endurance, because right now they’re going to not have the endurance to finish a race,” Crain said Thursday. “We’ve also been working on their technique and using the right stroke. Today, we worked on mainly freestyle and backstroke. We’ve worked on their turns and their starts, preparing them for the meet.”
If the special need swimmers do well in their upcoming events, they can move on to the next round, Crain said.
“What we’re headed for is Aug. 21 and 22, and that’s where all of this side of Texas will meet in Rockwall and will compete for the area swim meet. From there is state, which will be at A&M.”
Right now, there are about 29 young swimmers in her group, Crain said.
“Between the Special Olympics team, the Angels League and all the other kids we have about 29 racers. But last week we took 11 to the swim meet,” Crain said. “But we have about 16 or 17 that actually want to compete.”
The group is about being able to compete but also have fun, she said.
“It’s fun but it’s also about teaching them and the parents to do more than what they think they can do,” Crain said.
Crain, who is the head of delegation for Ellis County Special Olympics, said Angels League and other special need groups like Miracle League gives not only the children a chance to get out and enjoy their summer fun, but the parents as well.
“It’s exercise, it’s being around family and for getting everybody out and for the family to do things together, instead of keeping their special needs child at home. This is something for them to do,” she said. “The other day, we played baseball at the ball park. Everybody had their tennis shoes. We split up into teams and we played baseball at the sports complex. That was fun and it’s extra things like that, that we’re going to be doing.
Crain said her goal was to guide more special needs families to the YMCA.
“I want them to know that it’s safe, it’s fun, you can meet more families for more support and it draws better health,” she said. “It gets everybody out doing activities. There’s a lot of families out there that don’t realize that the YMCA has the Angel program.”
The Angel program even plays sports during the school year like volleyball, soccer and kickball. The Family YMCA is even beginning to start up a Miracle League baseball program, Crain said.
“It’s just different sports activities for the families to be involved in,” she said.
Crain said she is happy to be involved with the special needs children who compete in her athletic programs.
“It makes me smile, it makes my heart feel good,” Crain said. “It’s good exercise for me. But I know what I’m doing for these children and their parents, it make smile because they’re exceeding in something and having fun. I just love it.”
Right now, Ellis County hosts a Special Olympics swimming league, but Crain is hoping to add more events that the athletes can compete in, she said.
“For the Special Olympics, we are wanting to bring more sports here, because you hear of track, basketball and bowling. Those are the biggest sports for Ellis County. But we’re wanting to bring golf, soccer, volleyball, kayaking and gymnastics. So it’s big. It’s all sports, but it just takes people wanting to help. We just need more volunteers.”
The YMCA is trying to help incorporate more sports into Special Olympics leagues, Jonathan McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Waxahachie Family YMCA, said
“Obviously track and field is a key thing here,” McLaughlin said. “We are trying to incorporate golf, which would be a brand new component to our efforts this fall. We are seeking donations of bag and balls and anything people have collecting dust in their garage. That would be a big help to donate to these kids to facilitate these kids who might have never played before.”
McLaughlin said he like the idea of having a Special Olympics or Miracle League golf team.
“Golf would be a blast because it’s not ability specific and it’s individual sport,” McLaughlin said. “So no matter what their limitation might be they can play at some level.”
Two other sports the Family YMCA provides is bowling and they are starting up baseball, as well, McLaughlin said.
“Bowling is open to any body who would like to come and it’s not a session, so the can show up any of the Tuesdays or Thursdays to participate in that,” McLaughlin said. “Baseball, same thing, there’s no cost at all. Right now it’s just show up on Monday nights with the family. It’s not just for people with special needs who are playing the whole family can get involved too. We’ll get everyone sorted into teams and just play some baseball.”
Bowling meets at Hilltop Lanes at 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Although the YMCA got together last Monday the Waxahachie Sports Complex, they are pushing for it to begin in the fall when the weather cools down more, McLaughlin said.
Having these Miracle Leagues meets the YMCA’s mission, McLaughlin said.
“We hope to create programs for all, that’s part of our mission statement,” McLaughlin said. “We do a good job of throwing a ball out there and having kids run after it and go get it, but really if we didn’t offer soccer, basketball or volleyball then somebody else could easily fill that void. One thing that we’re really lack in communities at large, not just Waxahachie, is just being intentional with helping those who may not have the same psychical capabilities as what you might consider tradition. So it’s important that we fill that void.”
McLaughlin believe these Miracle League teams are important to keep special needs kids healthy, fit and active, he said.
“It’s important that we fill that void because statistics are there that kids that don’t get their exercise, somebody in special needs more than likely the end game will be sitting on a couch, becoming obese and becoming more and more withdrawn from friends and enjoyment that’s out there for them,” McLaughlin said. “So this Miracle League and the programs that we add, it just adds excitement to their life. It also gives the family a sense of relief too. For them to be able to see their kids excel at something fun, so they can maybe for the first time sit back and enjoy watching their kid being a child.”
“It gives them a place to go and things to do and of course sports is good for all of them,”Markel said.
“This gives them a place to go to just for them, where they can be themselves.”
Jim Markel, who is the executive pastor at The Avenue Church in Waxahachie, has a 24-year-old son with autism said the Miracle League and the programs the YMCA provide are are great way to get special needs kids active and involved in the community.
“The end goal is a place for the disabled to come and play baseball, as well as wounded warriors without any odd looks from anyone else,” Markel said. “This will give them the freedom and unity to live life together in a positive way.”
The Avenue along with the YMCA have come together to begin constructing a new set of fields, parks and playground for special needs and disabled children.
“With the development of the new field the Avenue is donating a lot of their land,” McLaughlin said.
To find out how to get involved and volunteer call the Waxahachie Family YMCA at 972-630-6179.