Dear Special Olympics Vermont Community,
It is with excitement I announce that Special Olympics Vermont will be reorganizing our sports calendar into four comprehensive seasons: Fall, Holiday, Winter and Summer. Over the next two years, we will be increasing competition opportunities, piloting new sports, expanding Healthy Athlete programming and elevating the State Games experience.
In addition to providing more opportunities, the shift to four seasons will better align Vermont with the vast majority of Special Olympics programs nationally. Furthermore, it will prepare us to achieve goals set forth by Special Olympics Inc. in the 2016-2020 Global Strategic Plan. These goals include:
- Improve the quality of sport programming
- Grow our health program to support athlete participation in sport and society
- Maximize the external impact of Games and competitions to showcase athletes’ abilities
The sports season reorganization plan emerged after nearly ten months of hard work and research by a task force made up of local program coordinators, coaches and staff. It was not an easy process and although the plan will overall positively impact athletes statewide, there will be some growing pains during the transition. Thank you for your support as we advance our programming together.
As a reminder, it is important to note that this transition only affects local state competitions, not school unified competitions. For more information regarding the reorganization plan, please see the sports season transition graphic and FAQs, below.
Thank you for all the hard work that you do to advance our mission in Vermont.
President & CEO
Special Olympics Vermont
Frequently Asked Questions
What were the factors that lead to the decision to reorganize the sport seasons?
Several factors lead to the research and development of a task force to evaluate our current model and develop a model that would be suitable for growth and increase opportunities for our athletes. Upon evaluation of our current model we discovered:
- No new sports had been added since 2008
- Limited sport offerings and training between October – December
- Limited calendar weekends for the introduction of new events or new sports
- Limited competition experiences (State games only competition) in each sport
- Overlapping seasons create challenges in satisfying the 8-week training minimum
- Some sports reaching capacity for venues, compromising the competition experience
Furthermore, the 2016 – 2020 Special Olympics Inc. Global Strategic Plan has identified many goals that the sports season reorganization will help achieve including: the expansion of Healthy Athletes, improving the quality of our sports programming and elevating sports tournament experiences.
Are athletes able to compete in more than one sport during a single season?
Athletes will be required to choose one sport in which to train and compete per sports season for State level competition. However, athletes can take advantage of and compete in recreational tournaments for other sports. For example: If an athlete chooses to compete in XC Skiing at the State Games, but there is a recreational (non-state sanctioned) bowling tournament during the same timeframe, an athlete can train and compete in XC Skiing at Winter Games and participate in the recreational bowling tournament.
Currently 95% of Vermont athletes participate in three or fewer sports. Athletes are highly encouraged to choose one sport per season with the goal that more athletes will participate year-round.
Does the sports season reorganization limit athlete participation in multiple sports, therefore reducing athlete opportunities to compete?
Although athletes may have had the opportunity to compete in a total of seven State Games experiences based on the old model, only 16 athletes statewide (about 1%) competed in four or more sports in the 2014-2015 sports season.
Our goal is to have athletes champion the sports they participate in and to provide more focused training by eliminating sports season overlaps. Additional competition opportunities (such as the Norwich Basketball Tournament) will allow athletes to participate in more recreational and regional competitions outside of the State Games.
The Special Olympics Vermont training calendar will increase for the majority of athletes. If athletes select one sport per season, they will spend more time training during the new calendar than the old calendar.
Are athletes able to compete in more than one sport at the State Games? What if competition falls on different dates?
Athletes may only compete in one sport per season at the State Games level. For example, although the competition for soccer may fall on a different date than the competition for golf, both will be considered Fall Games sports and athletes must choose one sport in which to train and compete.
Please also note that state competition for basketball will now be unified or traditional. Programs can have both types of teams, but athletes can only compete on one team (unified or traditional). This is similar to the model for Bocce at Summer Games where programs select teams to participate in either Unified Bocce or Traditional Bocce. This will allow for teams to play more games within their selected division.
What is a recreational tournament and how does it differ from State Games?
Recreational Sports or The Unified Sports Recreational model does not follow any prescribed training, competition and/or team composition requirements established by Special Olympics as set forth in Article 1, Section M of the Official Special Olympics Sports Rules. These recreational opportunities may take place in partnership with schools, sport clubs, the community and other private or public organizations. They can be introductory one-day events, exhibitions, and demonstrations (including Unified Sports Experiences which are described in Section C) or ongoing activities such as physical education classes and intramurals.
The Recreational model can include sports and other physical activities ranging from basketball to yoga; activities must be physical. Preferably, these activities should take place over a period of time and are only offered at and below the Program level. Recreational activities have no bearing on higher level competition such as USA and World Games, and no awards are provided.
Special Olympics Vermont plans to expand recreational tournament and sport opportunities such as the Norwich and Johnson State Basketball Tournaments, to provide additional competition opportunities outside of State Games. These events will be planned and executed by host venues. Requirements for participation will vary by event to adhere to each host venue’s risk management policies.
Special Olympics Vermont is also currently working closely with our New England counter parts to evaluate the possibility of Regional Competition opportunities.
May athletes practice in multiple sports per season, but only compete in one?
The task force recommendation is that programs not allow athletes to practice in sports they do not plan to compete in at State Games. Reasons include limited resources such as practice space and volunteer support, plus the lack of team continuity for team sports. Team dynamics and skill are best established throughout the training period with participation from only team members who plan to compete.
What new sports will be added to the calendar? What factors lead to the grouping of sports within their final selected season?
Currently there are seven potential (SO sanctioned) sports being considered. Suggestions for other sports are welcome and individuals can provide their feedback via an online survey. The link can be found in the letter section above. Please note, only local program constituents (non-school based programs) should take the survey. All new sports will go through a two-year pilot phase to determine feasibility.
New sports will help balance the sports season reorganization, consider facility space, weather, team sports verses individual sport options and offer a sport opportunity for all abilities, including athletes of limited mobility. Sport introduction may be contingent on other factors such as cost, partnerships with adaptive sport entities and collaboration for a State or Regional Invitational with other New England programs.
What resources will be available to help programs recruit coaches for current and new sports?
The new Special Olympics Vermont 3-year Marketing Plan includes the development of resources and allocation of funding to increase awareness and recruit volunteers and coaches at the local level.
We will also collaborate with community partners, sports organizations and our seven SO Colleges as resources for coaches, partners, practice facilities and event host sites. These colleges include:
- Johnson State College
- Castleton University
- University of Vermont
- St Michael’s College
- Middlebury College
- Norwich University
- Lyndon State College
How will the seasons and training period reflect on the calendar?
For a visual, please check-out the Sports Season Transition graphic. It displays the next two-years of competitions as well as new sports that are being considered and where they may fall on the calendar. See below for a rough estimate of the training period and State Competition date.
- Fall Games (end of July – early October)
- Holiday Games (October – early December)
- Winter Games (January – beginning of March)
- Summer Games (end of March – beginning of June)
How does this change affect the registration process and my time commitment as a LPC?
The registration process will not be affected much. For those Local Program Coordinators and coaches who have registered for Winter Games or Summer Games, the process will be similar. Protocols for athlete medical, partner forms and coach requirements will remain in effect.
In terms of time commitment as a local program coordinator or coach, there should be very minimal impact. During the two-year transition, we anticipate some growing pains that include additional coach recruitment or practice facility shuffling. Preliminary feedback predicts an increase in ease of facility booking with Special Olympics Vermont sports in the off-seasons.
How does this affect the program fees/costs?
Program fees for Summer and Winter Games will be assessed at the same rate in 2016. Special Olympics Vermont will conduct extensive research on other SO fee structure options and assemble a task force of Vermont Program constituents to review and determine an acceptable fee structure. If you are interested in serving on the task force, please contact Justin Graham, [email protected].
Please note, Fall Games will convert to an overnight competition in 2017.
Will there be Opening Ceremonies at all competitions?
Yes! Opening Ceremonies is always a staple of the State Games experience. Through the reorganization, Opening Ceremonies for all state competitions will be as grand as Winter and Summer Games. Likely without fireworks though.
How do we communicate this to our families, athletes, coaches and partners?
Feel free to share the letter and FAQ sheet directly with all of your constituents. Our goal is to be transparent throughout the transition and communicate the overall benefits athletes will reap from this large organizational change.
It important to note in communications regarding new sports to athletes and families, that although a new sport may be piloted, it may not be piloted in their local program. Programs will be able to select which sports they will offer given their capacity to support the sports. SOVT will work closely with Program Coordinators and the Board of Directors, as well as leverage Special Olympics Inc. expertise and resources to support all local programs through this significant transition.
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Justin Graham, Sports and Competitions Manager at [email protected] or 802.861.0280.