For more than 15 years, Boerne Special Olympics has been a resource for athletes seeking an equitable opportunity to participate in a variety of sports. Over the years, there has been a name change to Boerne Blaze Special Olympics (BBSO) and an overwhelming interest from athletes in Boerne and the surrounding areas.
BBSO is a local delegation under Area 20 (San Antonio), which falls under SOTX (Special Olympics Texas). SOTX rules and regulations apply, such as certified coaching requirements and adherence to the rules of each specific sport.
Jenny Cashion became the Head of Delegation in 2007. Since that time, they have added more sports and have become a very active group for individuals with special needs. Focus is on endurance, sports rules, teamwork, sportsmanship and general physical fitness. An important added benefit is the friendships these athletes build and the bonds of the parents.
Cashion’s involvement with BBSO is naturally a personal one. After several years working as a pediatric physical therapist, she gave birth to Adam, her third child. Adam has Down syndrome. “I continued to work but kept questioning God about whether having Adam was to make me a better therapist or being the therapist was to make me a better mother to a child with special needs.” Ultimately, she realized it was both and has used her knowledge and experience to help grow BBSO to benefit all people with intellectual disabilities.
Cashion admits that she initially resisted Special Olympics, determined that Adam would participate in regular sports. “But by the time he was 9, I knew that would be a hard thing for everyone. He just didn’t understand and was not motorically able to keep up with his typical peers….and I wanted him to do sports and to be successful in sports. So, through Boerne ISD, he started bowling and track Special Olympics.” Today Adam is 28 years old and still thrives in his select sports.
To participate, athletes must have an intellectual disability (some also have a physical disability). Cashion says the BBSO has athletes with Down syndrome, other syndromes, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and intellectual disabilities not associated with a syndrome or genetic condition. With the current roster of 56 athletes, the ages range from 6 years old to 54, with half of the group being over the age of 21. Some Special Olympics programs are in the school district, but BBSO is community-based so they can accommodate this wide age range.
BBSO offers sports year-round and most of their athletes participate in more than one season a year. Strict time commitments can include as many as four hours of practice per week, with some sports seasons overlapping, plus area competitions and unofficial tournaments within BBSO. Nine coaches donate their time to BBSO — six are parents of athletes and three are personally dedicated for various reasons. “I have always had a profound appreciation for those three,” Cashion said.
SOTX is currently encouraging and implementing unified sports. Cashion explains, “That is where typical athletes compete alongside our special athletes. This works really well in sports like swimming (relays), triathlon and cycling (tandem bikes). The ‘best’ partners are those who are sometimes struggling themselves but are not intellectually challenged. It gives them an opportunity to belong to a group and be a role model and to succeed. They are very appreciated and it boosts their self-esteem. It is a win-win.”
Miriam has been a BBSO athlete for years and says it’s not just the physical activity that has benefitted her, but the camaraderie that has helped her to be more social. “I had low self esteem because people didn’t accept me the way I am because of my handicap. I do bowling and cycling and triathlon. When we have triathlon, I only do one part and my teammates do one part, too. When we have indoor triathlon, I walk on the treadmill and sometimes I use the stationary bike and when we have outdoor triathlon I ride my bicycle. I have an adult tricycle. When I ride my bicycle, I feel good physically and emotionally. I like the Special Olympics,” she shared.
For Christopher, two of his most memorable experiences were his participation in the Special Olympics State swim competition at Texas A&M in 2019 and a couple of years later “seeing teammates and coaches again briefly after not seeing our team for many months during the pandemic, and getting the Elizabeth Hernandez Spirit Award (for helping teammates)!” Christopher joined BBSO as an elementary school student and is now a senior at Boerne-Champion High School. When asked what he has learned through BBSO, he said, “How to perform basketball skills like defense, different swimming styles and working as a team,” adding, “The coaches help us, and the team helps each other.”
Liezel, now 26 years old, has been with BBSO for about 10 years and sums up her experience beautifully, saying, “What I like about this program is that I’ve made a lot of friends and I am treated like an equal. Basketball is my favorite sport. I enjoy being part of a team and I like playing the game. There are a lot of opportunities to try different sports/activities and figure out what I like. I would like to thank all the coaches and volunteers for sacrificing their time and teaching us different things. I hope this program continues for a very long time so that future generations can enjoy and learn from it.”
Elijah’s mom, Aimee, recognized the benefits of BBSO after moving from San Antonio to the Boerne area. “Boerne Blaze has been a lynchpin to our family in building a sense of community for Elijah. He enjoys training and competing with his fellow athletes. In San Antonio, Special Olympics is built into the school schedule. It was such a pleasant surprise to see the number of sports available via BBSO. Elijah has thrived in swimming, cycling, tennis, bowling, basketball and triathlon. If it weren’t for Boerne Blaze, he would never have been exposed to triathlon as an option,” Aimee explained.
Run entirely by financial donations and good-hearted volunteers, BBSO dollars are often stretched thin. Expenses include equipment, uniforms and gatherings. Cashion has coaches certified in CPR and first aid every two years along with team building activities. She states that every dollar is spent on benefitting the athletes.
Local organizations have developed close relationships with BBSO, like the Young Men’s Service League in Boerne as well as Cordillera Ranch. “Just this year, Cordillera Cares has asked to help support us! They have offered us the use of the pools for our end-of-season swim meet and pool party!” said Cashion.