Sports have the unique ability to keep people healthy, motivated, confident and sociable. Though often reduced to children, college and professional athletes, sports are for virtually everyone – including people with intellectual disabilities.

Special populations benefit from team sports for the same reason recreational activities are important to all people, according to Holly Vincent, special populations coordinator for the Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s a social aspect they don’t get elsewhere,” Vincent said. “Making new friends from recreational activities is important. Keeping them healthy and active is important.”

Since the 1980s, the Bowling Green parks department has housed one of Kentucky’s largest Special Olympics programs for both youths and adults with intellectual disabilities. Now, they’re hoping to expand with the help of volunteers.

Throughout the year, the department offers bowling, basketball, cheerleading, flag football, golf skills, track and field, softball and swimming. And this spring, the city plans to introduce local athletes to soccer and bocce – which will further increase its need for volunteers.

For this year’s winter basketball season, practices will be Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Tuesdays from 5 to 7 p.m., starting Nov. 12 and running through early March. For basketball, there are positions for coaches and assistant coaches – which require a commitment of at least one hour per week – as well as for individuals willing to assist participants with basic skills.

“It could be as simple as taking one athlete aside to help them dribble or take a shot,” Vincent said.

For the winter cheerleading program, participants learn basic cheers and dance routines and perform at local sporting events. The program requires an additional volunteer coach, who can help decide the best day and time for weekly practices.

Individuals interested in helping, but with limited free time, can consider volunteering at one-day events, such as for fundraisers, games or special events. This year, there will be a Thanksgiving meal Nov. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the F.O. Moxley Community Center and a Christmas dinner Dec. 13 from 5 to 7 p.m. at First Christian Church.

In past years, high school clubs, Western Kentucky University athletes and caring community members have volunteered with the program.

“We have a role for anyone that wants to participate as a volunteer,” Vincent said. “We’re not going to turn anyone away that wants to help make our program successful.

“When they leave, they’ve made an impact on the lives of others.”

– For more information, contact Vincent at 270-393-3480 or holly.vincent@bgky.org.

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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