When Brendan Hodges was 8 years old, his mom took him to an event in O’Fallon to learn about the Special Olympics.
Seven years later, Brendan is a three-sport athlete with scores of medals hanging in his room and the confidence to be the manager for the boy’s basketball team at St. Charles West High School.
Brendan’s teacher, Margaret Folkins-Fuchs, has seen how participating in Special Olympics has helped Brendan.
Now she and several other teachers and parents in the St. Charles School District are forming a Special Olympics team for people in eastern St. Charles County.
“It’s something new to the community here,” Folkins-Fuchs said. “Before they’d have to travel to Fort Zumwalt (school district). With it in the community, it’s going to make it easier.”
Special Olympics provides athletic competitions and training to people with mental disabilities. More than 3,000 children and adults participate in 19 Special Olympic sports in the St. Louis area, said Matt Lauer, director of the St. Louis Metro Special Olympics.
There are several Special Olympics teams in St. Charles County, but few in the city of St. Charles. Some athletes would have to travel to O’Fallon to join the Fort Zumwalt teams for some sports, Lauer said. The distance can be a barrier, he said.
“Somebody from St. Charles wants to play softball. If I say the closest team is in North (St. Louis) County, they’re less likely to join that team if they have to go that far,” he said.
Folkins-Fuchs said she plans to start out with a cross country team and later offer bowling and basketball to anyone older than 8 years old.
“We have a lot of students’ parents in our district who have asked me about Special Olympics,” she said. “I think a lot of people will be involved.”
Brendan’s mom, Jean Hodges, plans to help with the team. She said parents should know there is a team for athletes of every ability level. She said that when Brendan started basketball, he did “team skills” – practicing passing the ball and shooting. Now he’s playing 3-on-3.
“We always thought that he’d never make a basket,” she said.
Then one day a few years ago, he did.
“His eyes scrunched up,” she said. “His arms were raised in a V.”
Lauer said participants benefit physically and socially from participating in Special Olympics.
“It’s a good social opportunity to be out,” he said. “For some of our athletes, it’s their only opportunity to be out. The social interaction, it goes both ways. We have a lot of volunteers at our events.”