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Special Olympics Hawaii holds annual Holiday Classic for athletes

By Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg | | December 2, 2013

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The smile on her face glowed as the young boy handed her the bowling ball. It weighed heavy in her hands as she positioned herself, but she didn’t care. She had worked hard to get to this point. The woman swung her arms and released the dense object. With her arms lifted high, she watched it slowly roll down the lane. Seven-out-of-ten pins are knocked over, and with her arms still raised the woman shouted, “Yeah!”

Participants with special needs competed in different events of the annual Holiday Classic, coordinated by Special Olympics Hawaii, and hosted by Marine Corps Base Hawaii and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Nov. 23 and Nov. 24, 2013.

More than 1,100 athletes traveled from all across Hawaii to participate in the three different events: Bowling, basketball and bocce.

The opening ceremony for the Holiday Classic was held at Club Pearl aboard JBPHH Saturday night, and speakers wished athletes and coaches the best of luck throughout the two-day competition.

Athletes who traveled to MCB Hawaii competed in a basketball tournament at the Children’s Youth Center while athletes who participated in bowling did so at K-Bay Lanes.

“All of the coaches and athletes look forward to being able to compete and have a good time,” said Dan Epstein, the games director for Special Olympics Hawaii. “We want to help any person with special needs be afforded the opportunity to play. It doesn’t matter if they’re a 3-year-old toddler or an 80-year-old senior, if they want to be a part of Special Olympics then we’ll get them out there playing with others.”

At K-Bay Lanes, athletes faced off in separate bowling matches depending on their skill, age and gender. To prepare for the competitions, each individual attended a five to six-week training camp.

After each competition concluded, the competitors were escorted outside with their coaches to be awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. As contestants took the stands, their faces lit up with joy as they were awarded for their hard work during the competition.

“There are athletes that have boxes of medals sitting at home, and each new medal they receive is like their first,” said Maureen McGuiness, the bowling venue director for Special Olympics Hawaii.

“These events are truly the best thing for someone to get involved in. Being able to work alongside these athletes and see the smiles on their faces really hits home and solidifies the feeling that you’re making a difference.”

Aside from the athletes, volunteers played a huge role in the two-day event. More than 1,100 military personnel donated their time to help event staff members and competitors aboard both bases.

Volunteers consisted of service members of all branches as well as civilians and family members of athletes with special needs. They proved to be the backbone of the Holiday Classic, helping out with sign-ins, coaching, officiating, assisting athletes, awards and more.

“These events wouldn’t be possible without the help and commitment of our volunteers,” said McGuiness. “For the Holiday Classic this year, the majority of our volunteers were military. We have a lot to thank them for, because they’ve done so much for us, from assisting the athletes to donating the use of their facilities.”

Upon the conclusion of games on the first day, athletes who were bussed to the bases were given free lodging and stayed the night on base to resume competing the next day.

“This event was such a success not because of us, but because of everyone who gave up their weekend to give these athletes an amazing experience,” Epstein explained. “We look forward to finishing up the competitions and begin planning for next year’s events.”


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