Special Olympics Delaware reacts to proposed federal funding cuts

Jensen Dixon with the Charlton Program in Camden hits a ball during Special Olympics sports training session at DE Turf near Frederica. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Facing a proposed $17.6 million cut in 2020 federal funding, Special Olympics International will promote its value in the coming weeks.

The First State could be drastically affected too.

Special Olympics Delaware has existed since 1971, with sports training and competition in 20 sports involving more than 4,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities.

The statewide entity receives $100,000 for its Unified Champion Program, which is recommended to be axed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“If that funding were cut, it not only affects the 158 schools currently involved in Delaware, but the thousands of others around our state and country that could have the opportunity to create school climates of acceptance, respect and inclusion for all students,” Executive Director Ann Grunert said Wednesday..

More than 150 schools statewide — preschool through high school — participate in the in the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program.

“Through this education-based program, thousands of students in Delaware, both with and without disabilities, are coming together to create positive school communities through sports, youth leadership and whole school engagement,” Ms. Grunert said.

Special Olympics International issued a statement that read in part:

“As is the case each year after the President presents his budget to Congress, we engage in opportunities, such as our annual Capitol Hill Day activities, to educate lawmakers about why grant funding for our health and education programming is critical to protecting and increasing access to these services for people with intellectual disabilities.

“We look forward to continuing to raise awareness among U.S. government officials about the important work that Special Olympics doing in the United States and around the world.”

Special Olympics asked “federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with ID.”

Ms. DeVos proposed the cuts this week, suggesting that private fundraising efforts should support the organization. The cuts are part of a $7 billion overall package, according to the Associated Press.

According to the AP, celebrities, politicians and activists have taken to social media to rebuke the proposal.

Special Olympics vision

As part of its vision statement, Special Olympics Delaware posted online the its “movement unlocks the joy of sport to inspire people to open their minds to human giftedness, to accept, include and value people with intellectual disabilities in all aspects of life, and thereby unite people in a shared belief of a more just and welcoming world.”

Special Olympics Delaware hosts its state basketball tournament on Saturday at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

A Delaware contingent recently competed in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dabi, United Arab Emirates. Three athletes, a coach and law enforcement representative took part.

The athletes competed in tennis, bowling and swimming.

“We are incredibly proud of all three of our athletes who trained so diligently for the opportunity to represent their country on Special Olympics’ grandest stage,” said Ann Grunert, Special Olympics Delaware executive director in an earlier news release.

“The experiences they had competing against athletes from other countries is something they’ll never forget, and to do so while visiting an area of the world they might never see again is a memory they’ll have for a lifetime.”

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