By Paula Walter

Tonya Mink knows the importance of exercise for everyone. She is the physical therapist at Johnson County Middle School. Mink is currently organizing a Special Olympics basketball team in Johnson County.
The Special Olympics was first formed in 1962 when President Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, held a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Maryland. From there, Shriver’s endeavor has grown to provide training and competitions for 5.7 million athletes with mental or physical challenges. The events are held year round across the globe.
Mink would like to see anyone ages eight and up with special needs to sign up for the newly organized Special Olympics team. “We are encouraging children and adults in our community to participate,” Mink said. “We welcome all ages and abilities.” The basketball team isn’t just for students, but is open to adults with disabilities as well. According to Mink, the Special Olympics organization is trying to encourage development of more teams. Currently, there are no other Area Three Special Olympics teams. This includes Johnson, Carter, Washington and Unico counties.
Children with challenges often cannot participate in many sports because of physical disabilities, Mink explained. It’s often difficult for them to keep running back and forth on the basketball courts. “Team sports are difficult because they don’t have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “When they are younger, they can be involved in team sports, but as they get older, they can’t make the team. They quit or become discouraged and there are no avenues for them.”
Students with disabilities can attend school up to 22 years old. Special Olympics participants can be as young as eight years old and there is no age limit. Devin Shaw is the coach for this newly formed basketball team.
Weekly practice will be held at the gym at Mountain City Elementary. “This is a great opportunity for physical activity and social interaction,” Mink stated. “It’s not just physical, it’s social. There’s a social aspect to it. We hope to play games against the Watauga County, North Carolina team,” she added.
There will be an organizational and sign-up meeting on Friday, October 20th at Mountain City Elementary in the gym. There is no limit to the number of participants who may sign up. “We will split into two if we have to,” Mink said. There is no affiliation with the Johnson County School system.
More information on the local Special Olympics will be available in the near future.