SOTX athletes

Tiffany Gilley, Cole Whitaker, and Austin Creel are long-time Special Olympics swimmers looking for more participation in next year’s meet at Palestine YMCA.

Saturday started a tradition in Palestine that Special Olympics organizers say will continue for many years: Special Olympics in East Texas (Area 7) put on a fun swim day at YMCA Palestine and held a leisure swim for five athletes.

The five athletes in attendance, all members of the Tyler Rose Delegation, participated in a leisure swim in the Y’s Olympic-size pool, while coaches and directors met in a town hall meeting to show support for future events in Palestine.

Chris Darnell, director of Special Olympics’ Area 7 of East Texas, told the Herald-Press the Palestine YMCA was chosen for its central location.

The YMCA Palestine pool, operated jointly with the City of Palestine, is one of just a few in East Texas large enough to host Area 7 swim meets, which usually draw athletes from Longview, Tyler, Mabank, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Palestine, and Rusk. Area 7 serves more than 1,000 athletes in East Texas.

The athletes express lots of enthusiasm for swimming — especially in July. Cole Whitaker of Tyler and Austin Creel of Overton have both participated in swim meets for about 10 years, and both enjoy swimming and basketball. Creel and Tiffany Gilley of Troup said swimming is their favorite sport.

“I love the water,” Creel said.

Other swimmers were Roland Day of Tyler and Alan Wood of Lindale.

Darnell said everyone is invited to attend SOTX events; volunteers are also needed. He is not concerned about the lack of participation Saturday, but hopes to build the event to include as many athletes, families, coaches, and volunteers as possible.

“This was just a community celebration to get people out to enjoy the event,” said Darnell, who hopes to build outreach programs to encourage participation.

Palestine’s Knights of Columbus furnished sack lunches for the sponsors and athletes.

Marianne Packard, head of the Tyler Rose Delegation, said previous meets usually draw 90 or more athletes, who offer more competition. Packard said the Tyler delegation has 180 registered athletes.

Coach Carol Smith attributed low turnout to lack of a practice venue: The Tyler team’s practice pool was closed for repair. The lack of regular practices, she said, resulted in a low turnout. Packard said transportation issues also hampered participation.

Tyler Rose Delegation will host softball and bocce events in Tyler Sept. 14.

In bocce, an outdoor bowling game from Italy, players take turns rolling balls toward a marker inside a lane 8’ wide by 75’ long. The athletes will compete in single, double, or team bocce.

Softball events will include a skills t-ball, coach pitch, and unified team events. The Tyler Rose Delegation will begin practices Aug. 3 at Fun Forest Park in Tyler.

Other SOTX events include basketball, bowling, and track and field.

Special Olympics Texas, a nonprofit that promotes confidence, physical development, and social skills among persons with disabilities, serves nearly 60,000 Texas athletes. Founded in 1969, the organization is now celebrating its 50-year anniversary.

For more information about Special Olympics Texas, contact Marianne or Dave Packard, heads of the Tyler Rose Delegation, at 903-530-8546.