Video, photos and story by JOHN ANDERSON
ALFRED — The regional Special Olympics competition at Alfred State College was getting bigger and bigger when the pandemic ended the event for area student-athletes after the 2019 games.
It returned this year and was so popular, more volunteers showed up than needed and the performances turned the heads of college coaches in attendance watching the kids from Stueben and Allegany counties.
Dan Kuberka, the director of programs for Special Olympics in New York has attended each competition at Alfred State and said the facility is a highlight as well as the athletes.
“The facility here at Alfred State is beautiful,” Kuberka said. “It’s a great place to give the local athletes a chance to compete. Everything from the new track to the scoreboard, everything is absolutely fantastic and really adds to the day. Especially the scoreboard, they put our logo and highlights up there on the video screen. That is something no one has ever done for us and it really looks great and was a welcome surprise.”
This was the first year Anne Holmok, the women’s soccer coach at Alfred State College, was in charge of the event.
“I love watching the kids’ expressions on their kids’ faces as they are running and when they are done and how pumped up they get. It doesn’t matter how they do or what place they come in. But every once in a while, you will have that kid who finished and is pumped up that they got first. And, to watch how excited they get for their own teammates as they come in,” Holmok said. “I just watched one of the finishers cheer on their teammate as they finished and said ‘you’re awesome, you’re awesome’ and I told them they are the best teammate ever. How much they love each other and encourage each other is a big deal.”
Kuberka was pleased with the event and hearing other high school and college coaches rave about the track and field events.
“Our Special Olympics athletes always surprise people with their ability. Our athletes, we are more similar than we are different,” Kuberka said. “The level that they can compete and achieve is really fantastic. It’s nice when people can see that for the first time and it really changes their perception about what these kids are capable of.
“There are so many kids and adults who benefit from the Special Olympics programs. So to be able to bring all of the athletes from the local communities to Alfred State to one spot to have this great day together, it’s a fantastic opportunity for them to come out and show what they can do,” Kuberka added.
There are several different competitions offered for students across the state.
“Special Olympics New York is one of the largest Special Olympics organizations in the world. We do everything from events like this with the local community to regional events to super-regional events, state-wide level events,” Kuberka said. “We are sending athletes to Orlando in June to the Special Olympics National Games. We try to create as many opportunities for these athletes as we can because they really deserve it.”
Holmok credited Alfred State Community Relations Specialist Paul Welker for the perfect day and thanked the volunteers from several teams at the college, groups and organizations.
“I’m proud of everybody at Alfred State. Extra volunteers showed up. Our campus is incredible. Even if they didn’t have anything to do, they stayed all day and cheered on the athletes,” Holmok said. “This is a well-oiled machine because Paul Welker started it. This is the first year I was in charge and I leaned on him with a ton of emails and phone calls because we want this to go well for the student-athletes and the spectators and we don’t want to let anyone down, so thank goodness for Paul Welker.
In the past the event has been recognized for its contributions to the local community by National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the AMCC collegiate conference.