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FAQs

Is the Special Olympics headquarters in Colorado Springs (with the USOC)?

Special Olympics Colorado is one of 52 state chapters (2 in California and Illinois) in the U.S. sanctioned by Special Olympics North America and Special Olympics International. The state office in Englewood, just south of Denver, is the headquarters for its business operation and the majority of the Programs staff. Special Olympics Colorado has satellite offices for some Area Managers who work with athletes, families and volunteers in Colorado Springs (serving the southeast Colorado area) , Glenwood Springs (serving the western Colorado area) and Loveland (serving the northeastern Colorado area). For a complete list of full-time employees and contact information.

What are the volunteer age requirements?

We welcome volunteers eight years of age and older. Volunteer under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult when participating. Anyone under 8 years old is welcome to come be a Fan in the Stands to cheer on the athletes at SOCO events, and must be supervised by an adult.

How is Special Olympics Colorado funded?

Special Olympics Colorado is a 501c3 and is one of just 6% of non-profits which does not receive federal or state funding. We provide all of our services at no charge to athletes and their families. Our revenue sources are diverse, coming from a combination of individuals, corporate sponsorship, grants, and car donations.

How often do I need to submit a medical form to compete?

You only need to submit a Special Olympics medical form once every three years.

When are the events for Special Olympics?

This is the most common question asked by many people becoming more familiar with the movement. Special Olympics Colorado hosts more than 100 sports competitions, events and training each year. There are 22 sports to choose from, and generally 4-5 sports per each of the four seasons in a calendar year are offered to athletes and their typically developing peers. Special Olympics Colorado offers 6-8 week regular season programs which culminate with a one-day area championship in each of the five designated geographic areas. The qualifiers from the area championships advance to the State Championships. Special Olympics Colorado hosts six state championships each year. The annual statewide championship events are: Winter Games, Summer Games, Fall Classic, Summer Classic, Flag Football State Games, and Basketball State Games.

What is the difference between a State Game and a special event?

The State Games are Olympic-type competitions that are held six times a year. The events included are comprehensive, thus the need for many volunteers to help with competitions and social activities. The State Games typically require anywhere from 100 volunteers to 500 volunteers. Special Events are state fundraising events that Special Olympics Colorado hosts. We typically need fewer volunteers to host these events. We appreciate your interest in volunteering for any and all of our events. For a list of the types of roles for volunteers at our State Games and Special Events, please visit the Volunteer area of this website.

What is Special Olympics Unified Sports®?

Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins an approximately equal number of people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. A teammate with an intellectual disability is a Special Olympics athlete and a teammate without an intellectual disability is a Unified Sports partner.

What is Special Olympics’ school-based Strategy?

Special Olympics has an education and sports based strategy powered by an engaged youth community that increases athletic and leadership opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities, while creating communities of acceptance for all. Unified Sports impacts the entire school community through inclusive youth leadership and awareness opportunities.

What is Interscholastic Unified Sports?

A partnership between Special Olympics State Programs and their respective NFHS state member association to advance the mission and goals of both organizations. Project UNIFY is often the focus of these partnerships where Unified Sports is integrated or an endorsed program of the state associations. In 2012, the Colorado High School Athletics and Activities Association (CHSAA) board of directors announced its commitment to recognize SOCO’s Unified Sports programs as an important initiative in our schools and for each of the past three years, SOCO teams have played in a showcase game at the CHSAA 4A and 5A boys and girls state basketball championships at the University of Colorado’s Coors Events Center in Boulder.

Does Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Sports address the US Office of Civil Rights ”Dear Colleague Letter”?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. On January 25, 2013 the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights released a “dear colleague letter” which further outlined each school’s responsibility to provide equal access to extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities. Under this guidance, all students are to have an equal chance to try out for school teams. If students with disabilities do not make the team, it urges schools to create other inclusive sports opportunities. Special Olympics Unified Sports is a proven model which can help school systems meet the letter and spirit of this law.

Are students with other types of disabilities able to participate?

In order for school administrators to meet Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, students may not be excluded from school programs based upon their specific disability. It is recommended that school-based Unified Sports teams be set-up in the most inclusive way possible to allow students with other types of disabilities (physical disability, learning disability, hearing impairment) to be able to participate in a safe and meaningful way as Unified Sports partners. Note: it is always critical to maintain a proportionate number of students without disabilities to ensure the inclusionary goals of Unified Sports are met.

How are students with Autism included?

The Autism Spectrum includes a large range of intellectual capabilities and each student needs to be assessed individually to determine how they can be most meaningfully involved in school sports. Typically, the majority of students with Autism are considered to have an intellectual disability (ID) based upon the Special Olympics eligibility criteria and therefore would qualify as a Special Olympics athlete. Many students that would have formerly been classified by school systems as having an ID, are now classified on the Autism Spectrum. Students with Autism who do not have an ID would be eligible to participate as Unified Sports partners.

How would an Interscholastic Unified Sports league function?

Together, Special Olympics and School/District Administration would outline the expectation of the sport in question (how to play, rules clarification, game modifications if any, etc.). From that point Special Olympics or a single school can hold a district-wide Administrator meeting for all the schools within that district that will participate in the league. After this meeting, Special Olympics staff will be available to support each school and ensure their specific needs are met. From this point the school system is typically responsible for scheduling, transportation, officials, etc. — Just as they would any other varsity sport. The usual format is a home and away game with each school. Traditionally, district tournaments are offered at the end of the season or the Special Olympics state games are used as a culminating championship.

Who is in charge of league game scheduling?

The state Special Olympics office works with each school district to identify a Volunteer Mentor (often school-based employees who are involved in Project UNIFY) to work with coaches at each school in their district and nearby area. The mentor collaborates with the coaches for each sport and constructs the tentative schedule. The Athletic Directors at each school are contacted to ensure facilities are available. If changes need to be made, the changes are proposed to the coaching group. Once finalized, the schedule is forwarded to the state Special Olympics office and if established, the states’ governing organization, CHSAA.

What happens if a school has limited numbers of students with intellectual disabilities?

Sports should be chosen which require a smaller roster size and allow a greater variance of ability levels among the teammates. Examples include Unified Track and Field (which has events for all ability levels and smaller teams can have as few as 5-6 students with ID), Unified Bocce (requires 3-4 students with ID), Unified Aquatics (same as track and field), Unified Tennis, (requires 3-4 students with ID), and Unified Bowling (requires 2-3 students with ID).

ow does fielding a team in rural areas work- where schools are spread out and resources are limited?

Schools should select cost-efficient sports which require smaller rosters and permit a wider range of abilities among the teammates. A Unified Track and Field team can train alongside the school’s varsity track and field team, and accompany them to meets which would also include Unified Sports competition. Unified Bocce roster sizes are between 6-8 players, and portable courts are inexpensive and can be set up easily in a variety of locations. For competition, one centralized rural high school can host a Unified Bocce invitational for several schools.

Who are the coaches school-based Unified Sports teams?

Unified Sports coaches come from a variety of backgrounds including special education teachers, varsity sports coaches, physical education teachers, general education teachers, and coaches from community-based sports programs. A coaching Unified Sports training course is offered at no cost through the NFHS.

Who are the Unified partners in school-based programs?

A unified partner is a student without an intellectual disability, who actively participates with the athletes in a fun a meaningful way for training and competition. If a school is conducting a competitive team sport, Unified partners should match as closely as possible to the Special Olympics athlete’s age and ability. For example, Varsity soccer players would typically not be a good match as a Unified partner on a unified soccer team. Unified Sports provides to opportunity for current non student-athletes the chance to participate in school base athletics.

What if a school sports team has a “no-cut” policy instead of offering Unified Sports?

The ultimate level of inclusion is when Special Olympics athletes can participate in mainstream school sports. However, a positive experience can only be achieved when that athlete is involved in a meaningful and genuine way. Unified Sports is a great option for inclusion when this meaningful involvement cannot be achieved in the mainstream. Unified Sports also serves as a great stepping stone into mainstream athletics.

What are the guidelines for athletes/partners lettering in a sport?

While each school and district has a different policy in regards to students lettering in a sport; traditionally, students must be a member of the Unified Sports team for the entire season, be in good academic standing, and attend practice and games regularly. Each school can also consider following the guidelines already established for current varsity teams.

Are Unified Sports participants required to meet academic standards?

Unified Sports teammates should follow the academic policies of their school’s Athletic Department. Some teammates may be on a different grading system, or have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In these cases, the Athletic Department should work with student advisors to ensure a similar academic standard is expected of those students.

How do we work with other school organizations that serve the same or similar population? (i.e. adapted sports, wheelchair leagues, etc.)?

Organizations serving students with disabilities seek for their members to have enriching, inclusive experiences. Special Olympics programs are encouraged to collaborate with these groups, as Unified Sports provides meaningful opportunities for all. It is important for the school to offer sports which are accessible to students with different types of disabilities, so nobody is excluded.

Are Unified Sports coaches paid or unpaid?

Many Interscholastic Unified Sports coaches receive a stipend from their school system, just like any other coach would. In some states, such as Maryland, teachers are required to be paid if they are working on an extracurricular program. While we want to encourage these coaches to be paid by the school district, many Unified Sports coaches, assistants and aids are volunteering their time. Please note that anytime coaches are providing their services as part of their employment relationship with the school, they are not considered volunteers in the context of Special Olympics insurance coverage. Similarly, if coaches are acting independently of their employment relationship, but are receiving a fee or stipend, they are not considered volunteers in the context of Special Olympics insurance coverage. Specifically, the insurance policy defines a volunteer as follows: a person who is not the Program’s employee, and who donates his or her work and acts at the direction of and within the scope of duties determined by the Program, and is not paid a fee, salary or other compensation by the Program or anyone else for the work performed for the Program.

How is transportation funded?

There are a few options in which transportation can be funded:

  1. School-based fundraising – Have students create a fundraising platform, where schools can raise money to support their Unified Sports program on campus. The money raised can be used to cover the transportation costs for the team.
  2. School district covers the cost – A number of school districts are able to provide transportation at no charge, as it is already covered in the district budget. Try to find creative ways to take advantage of transportation that may already be in place, such as through an existing sports team.
  3. Special Olympics support: – Schools may be eligible to receive seed funding through their State SO Program Office.

How is Unified Sports handled in “pay to play” situations?

The increasing majority of school systems in the U.S. have the option to charge a student participation fee for extracurricular programs, called “pay to play”. In some cases, this fee is being waived for Unified Sports teams in schools. When Special Olympics Unified Sports are determined to be school events, the school may assess student fees, so long as those fees are not required as a condition for participation in an event conducted by Special Olympics. For reference, see Section 3.02 of the SO General Rules; Prohibition on Charging Fees:

No Accredited Program or GOC may require Special Olympics athletes or their families to pay or promise to pay any type of admission, registration, training, participation, or competition fee, or any other fee or charge of any type as a condition for admission to any Special Olympics event or activity, or as a fee for the athletes’ participation in any Special Olympics or competition.

How is the liability insurance handled for Unified Sports?

U.S. Special Olympics Programs have liability insurance through the Special Olympics Corporate insurance Program (SOCIP). The general liability insurance coverage protects U.S. Special Olympics Programs from claims of bodily injury, property damage and personal injury due to alleged negligence of the U.S. Program at a Special Olympics event. Whether the Special Olympics general liability will provide coverage in an Interscholastic Unified Sports program will depend on a variety of factors, such as who organizes the event, where the event takes place, whether it takes place during the school day and whether Special Olympics staff and/or volunteers are present.

For example, when students attend off-campus events organized by Special Olympics, such as Summer Games, then those events will usually be considered Special Olympics events for purposes of insurance.

If the event (such as a practice) is taking place on school property under the supervision of designated school personnel, then this would generally be considered a school function and the school’s insurance policy should apply. Unified Sports competitions (such as a track meet or tournament) organized between schools would usually be considered a school event. Special Olympics Staff may support and help manage these school-based events, however they are still generally considered school events for insurance purposes.

While there may be some uncertainty as to the roles of the school district and the U.S. Program, a contract that clarifies which party is responsible for which activities could provide certainty to a Program. For example, if a contract states that the school is responsible for the venue and a person slips and falls on the ice at the stadium, then the school’s insurance should apply. Similarly, if Special Olympics is responsible for volunteers and a volunteer is accused of inappropriate behavior, then Special Olympics insurance will likely apply.

How does Unified Sports impact the whole school community?

Unified Sports is just one of the diverse activation opportunities within your school.

Special Olympics’ school based strategy is driven by three core components – Unified Sports, Youth Leadership & Advocacy, and Whole-School Engagement – which work together to activate young people and give them the tools, skills, dispositions, and opportunities to build change and to motivate their schools to have true cultures of inclusiveness. That means that students are bringing their formidable energy and imagination to build schools that are inclusive in every way: physically, academically and socially.

What is youth leadership within Special Olympics?

Special Olympics has a primary goal to engage youth as leaders, to give youth a voice in their schools, and to provide youth with opportunities to become advocates for themselves and their peers. For the youth with and without intellectual disabilities who are directly involved, those are leadership lessons that stay with them for life. Moreover, the impact of youth leadership extends far beyond the individual young leaders, as they become agents of change in their schools, their families, their communities – and the world of inclusion and understanding that they will build throughout their lives.

In Special Olympics, youth leadership takes many forms and happens in many different contexts. The common thread is that they all include students of all abilities. Participants come together to plan and conduct sports, games, community service, school events – and of course to have fun. By doing such typical student activities inclusively, they learn a lot about each other, break down barriers, and serve as role models.

To learn more about leadership in Special Olympics programs, check out the Youth Leadership Guide at http://media.specialolympics.org/soi/files/resources/Project_Unify/YouthLeadershipGuide-Final.pdf

Why should students be involved in the leadership?

“Real change will happen when we partner with the amazing youth around us, give them the freedom to innovate and create, providing them with the skills, knowledge, and support they need to be successful along the way.” – Teri Dary Partner at Cascade Educational Consultants

Nobody understands the thoughts, emotions, attitudes and ideals of young people better than other young people. And when young people care about something, when they perceive a reality that needs changing, they bring unparalleled energy and creativity to achieving their goals. They are hungry to lead; they just need the opportunity.

How can youth leadership function within Special Olympics Unified Sports?

There are many opportunities to engage students as leaders in the Unified Sports process:

  • Engaged student leaders can start right from the beginning – drafting the plan for the team on campus, recruiting athletes/partners and more. A great place to start for student leaders interested in helping start Unified Sports is the Unified Sports Student Guide.
  • Conversely, if the team has already begun, students can support with the sustainability of a team by organizing team logistics for uniforms and travel, leading fundraising efforts to support team’s efforts, or developing recruitment plan for growth and expansion in future years.
  • Every team needs supporters and students can take an important leadership role in ensuring the team’s recognition amongst the whole school:
  • Recruit fans to come watch a local competition.
  • Plan a rally or assembly to share the impactful messages of inclusion and respect while also highlighting the success of the Unified Sports team.

Can my school-based Unified Sports team compete at Special Olympics events?

School based Unified Sports Teams are invited to play at our Special Olympics Colorado area and state competitions. A roster with a certified coach will need to be submitted to your SOCO area manager by a seasonal deadline. Please visit our Coaches Resources section of this website and search by sport to roster forms for submission.

Below you can determine which area your school team is located in and you will find contact information for your area manager. Your area managers will be able to provide you details about dates of competitions and how to register your team for SOCO’s area and state competitions. Participating in these competitions is a great opportunity for your team to play new teams/schools and compete at a higher level

Can I get paid to coach or serve on a committee?

Special Olympics Colorado employees 25 full-time people year-round to coordinate sports programs and training, and manage the business and administration of the organization in areas such as accounting, marketing and public relations, and resource development. With such limited human resources to fulfill all the needs of our athletes, families and supporters, Special Olympics Colorado also relies heavily on volunteerism. We are so thankful for the 9,000 volunteers around the state who coach teams/sports programs, work events and competitions, and help raise funds.

How can I get involved with Special Olympics if I’m a person without intellectual disabilities?

There’s something for everyone at Special Olympics Colorado! If you are interested in competing as a unified partner (an athlete without intellectual disabilities), we would love to have you participate. Athletes, both male and female, can participate at a young age 2 ½ years old and are welcome to continue as athletes as long as you are willing and interested.

If you are interested in volunteering as a coach, in a support role at a competition or special event, or to serve on one of our many committees, please visit the Volunteer area of the website.

What are the volunteer age requirements?

We welcome volunteers eight years of age and older. Volunteer under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult when participating. Anyone under 8 years old is welcome to come be a Fan in the Stands to cheer on the athletes at SOCO events, and must be supervised by an adult.

What is the Protective Behaviors Training?

Protective Behaviors is a training program for volunteers to help prevent the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of Special Olympics athletes. It consists of an online training, followed by a 10 question test. To complete the training, volunteers must correctly answer 10 out of 10 questions. After you have finished and submitted the test, a confirmation email will be sent to you and SOCO, who will keep a record of your training. Click here to complete the Protective Behaviors training.

Training needs to be completed every 3 years, along with your application or renewal application. SOCO records everyone that has completed the training and the information is kept in our database.

How do I volunteer?

If you are interested in volunteering for a single day event, you can register online through our calendar. For Coaching/Unified Partner (an athlete without intellectual disabilities) volunteer opportunities or a Specialized role,

Where can I see a list of upcoming SOCO events that you need volunteers for?

Visit our Calendar to see upcoming events that you can volunteer for. An online registration is attached to each event where volunteers are needed. You can also sign up to receive the SOCO e-newsletter, which lists updated volunteer opportunities. You can also contact Claire Viater, Volunteer and Family Services Manager, by email or phone 720.359.3130 if you have any questions.

Volunteer shift times vary depending on the event. Volunteers are required to stay for the entire shift that they are assigned to, and usually shift times run 4-8 hours long. Schedules are always flexible before an event as long as the volunteer notifies the state office before the event. Please visit our Calendar for upcoming volunteer opportunities.

If I am already a coach, how often do I need to renew my Class A volunteer application?

Class A volunteer applications expire 3 years after your initial application date.

How can I get a group/my company involved?

We are always looking for groups and companies to get involved with Special Olympics Colorado. Certain events, like the State Games, are very large and require more volunteers than some of our local competitions or Special Events, so we encourage you to seek out opportunities for those events first. You can register a group online or contact Claire Viater, Volunteer and Family Services Manager, by email or phone 720.359.3130 to get your group involved. If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please contact Megan Toohey at 720.359.3109.

I need to keep track of my volunteer hours for school, work, etc. How do I get a record of my volunteer time?

You can bring a volunteer form with you for someone to sign at the event or you can contact Claire Viater, Volunteer and Family Services Manager, by email or phone 720.359.3130 after the event and she will send you a letter with your volunteer hours.

What is the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Colorado?

The Polar Plunge is a way to show your support for Special Olympics Colorado. You will raise money for the opportunity to take a dip into a frigid body of water – sounds fun right? Well, it is – especially when you come in costume, plunge with a team, and stay for the after party! Plungers will race into the CHILLY water (or jump into the Pool for the Denver Plunge), within a safety perimeter established by dive team members. Plungers set their own personal goals of how deep to go and how long they want to stay in (within the limits established by the dive team). Some plungers only get their ankles wet; others stay in and play until the dive team members make them leave the water. Diving is strictly prohibited.

How much does it cost to Plunge?

There is no cost to register, however, there is a fundraising minimum of $75 ($50 for students and Special Olympics athletes) to participate in the plunge. By reaching the fundraising minimum, you will earn the official Polar Plunge long sleeve t-shirt and be able to attend the after party!

How much does it cost to participate in the 5K portion of the annual Splash and Dash?

The early bird registration is $30, and the registration after January 1 of each year increases to $35 and on event day, $40.

NOTE: This registration fee for the 5K does not include the Polar Plunge fundraising minimum ($75 for adults and $50 for students or SOCO athletes).

How do I become a Plunge Team Captain?

Team captains serve as the leader of your Polar Plunge team and are responsible for recruiting team members and setting team fundraising goals. There is no limit to size of Polar Plunge teams (and no fundraising maximum!) so aim high! Spread the word about this exciting and unique event.

Here’s how you can become a GREAT Team Captain:

  • Ask people you like (and who you trust) to be on your team and show your enthusiasm
  • Have a team kickoff to recruit new members and get things going.
  • Set a team fundraising goal of at least $100/person or $1000 for the team. But don’t stop there! Be creative with your fundraisers to increase your overall dollars raised. Make sure your teammates are utilizing their Personal Plunge Pages to encourage more donations.
  • Select a co-captain to help you.• Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – keep your team informed about incentive prizes, rules, games, contests, etc.
  • Be their cheerleader and their biggest fan.
  • Talk about any personal connections to Special Olympics
  • Hang posters, banners, balloons in your office.
  • Volunteer at a local competition or training club with your team to motivate!
  • Host a wrap-up party to thank you team for participating.
  • Have a BLAST!

What should I expect on the day of the Polar Plunge?

You should arrive at the Plunge during the registration period to sign a waiver, submit any additional donations, receive your wristband that you need to plunge, and collect your T-shirt and swag bag. During registration, you will also fill out a team information card that the DJ will read right before you take the plunge. Depending on your Polar Plunge location, you may have a plunge wave assigned. Based on your selected wave, you will be notified of the recommended time to arrive at the plunge to ensure you have enough time to sign in.

The Polar Plunge is a family affair so pack up your children, friends and neighbors so they can see you take your icy dip!

After you or your group plunges, you will be directed to heated tents where you can get out of your wet clothes and into something cozy (there will be separate women’s and men’s changing locations). Once you are dry, you are encouraged to cheer on other plungers and then head to the after party to celebrate a great Polar Plunge!