Marshalltown Special Olympians headed to state this weekend

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T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Pictured are members of the Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) Special Olympics team who will be competing in basketball and cheerleading at the Spring Classic in Iowa City and Coralville on Saturday along with their coaches. They practiced in the Lenihan gym on Monday afternoon.
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By Robert Maharry, Times-Republican

For over 12 years, the Marshalltown Community School District did not have a Special Olympics program, but that has officially changed this year with athletes from third grade all the way up to high school excited to compete at the statewide Spring Classic in the Iowa City/Coralville area on Saturday.

“I’d say we got it started just by being super persistent. I know that we were going to board meetings and talking to a lot of our administration (team) and things like that about getting it restarted,” Madyson Sodders, who coaches along with Susan Arifi, said. “I can’t speak, obviously, for the younger (ones), but I know my high school kids are stoked for Saturday. I think it’s really neat that a lot of it’s unified as well. They’re able to kind of be with some of their peers, and I’m just really excited to be a part of something like this.”

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Inside of a packed gym during practice at Lenihan Intermediate School earlier this week, Arifi and Sodders shared their excitement about the resurgence of the program and the opportunity for the competitors to make new friends and foster a spirit of inclusion with others from across the state.

“They’re excited just to be with their friends because, to me, the whole point of this is them being able to make friendships and being treated just like anyone else, and this allows that opportunity,” Arifi said. “They’re just excited to have friendships.”

Sodders said her high school athletes love to come to practice every day and look forward to the chance to improve their skills.

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On Saturday, the basketball competition will be held at the Greenstate Family Fieldhouse in Coralville, and cheerleading will be at Iowa City High School. Most of the athletes will ride together on a bus, while a few will travel with their parents. The events are open to the public.

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According to Arifi, the relaunched program started with just eight kids, but it’s already up to 35.

“We’re getting more peer helpers, more kids involved, so we’re hoping to put together several soccer teams that are unified, track teams that are unified, bocce ball that’s unified,” she said. “Next year, we’re hoping to do football.”

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The Summer Games will be held in Ames in May, and the coaches plan to have their athletes try out in soccer, bocce and track and field.

To learn more about the Special Olympics, visit https://www.soiowa.org/.

Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or [email protected].

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