The Payson Special Olympics team is embarking on a new adventure.
The quest centers on first-ever participation in the SO Unified Sports program.
Longtime local Special Olympics coordinator and coach Becky Derwort explains the program as one in which "disabled individuals are partnered with non-disabled individuals for competitions, which allows athletes with and without disabilities to train and compete on the same team."
The benefit of adding Unified Sports to the local SO offerings, Derwort said, it that it will help athletes learn new sports, develop higher-level skills, form friendships and learn to play a valued role on a team.
The Payson team's first chance at showing its wares in a Unified Sports program held Feb. 14 to 16 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
There, Payson SO athletes Roseanne Hendricks, Tiffany Slayman and their partners Chelsea Smith and Derwort participated in the 18th Annual Special Olympics National Unified Sports Bowling Tournament.
Smith, a Payson High School sophomore, is a volunteer partner in the SO program. Also traveling with the team is SO bowling coach, Annie Spencer.
"We are excited about going to it," Derwort said prior to the team's departure. "We've been practicing and are ready."
State Special Olympic officials said the idea of combining athletes with and without disabilities on one team was first introduced in the mid-1980s to provide another level of challenge for higher ability SO athletes and to promote equality and inclusion.
Today, Unified Sports has expanded to include most all Special Olympics offerings.
Upon the Payson team's return from New Mexico, Derwort's goal is to expand the Unified Sports program to include more athletes and other sports.
The challenge she and the other SO coaches must overcome, she said, is finding enough volunteers to staff the new program.
"We do need help with our mission of providing year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities," she said.
To volunteer with SO, call Derwort at (928) 474-2233.