As AOF Special Olympics Program Ends, National Competition Begins


As AOF Special Olympics Program Ends, National Competition Begins

As AOF Special Olympics Program Ends, National Competition Begins


The official 2022 Special Olympics USA Games kick off on June 5 in Orlando, but at Avon Old Farms, working to create opportunities in sport for everyone is a year-round commitment. 

Avon Outreach is a community service club that over 75% of the student body participates in – even though there is no community service requirement for students. One of the volunteer opportunities that Avon Outreach participants can help with is local Special Olympics programming. 

For more than a decade, Avon Old Farms School has partnered with the Farmington Valley Special Olympics to give their athletes a place to practice their skills in various sports, and allow Avonians to experience what it is like to help others.

Benjamin Schloat is the head of the world languages department and has served as the faculty advisor for the Avon Outreach club since 2016. He expressed his praise for the Special Olympics program. 

“It’s great. Over the four years that the students are here they get to develop relationships with the athletes. I know I’ve developed relationships with the athletes as well,” Schloat said. “Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”

Before George Wirpel ’22 graduated this past Sunday, he hadn’t missed a single Special Olympics practice since he started participating his freshman year. 

“I kinda just started doing it freshman year and it became a habit,” Wirpel said. 

Wirpel, who as a senior became one of the co-presidents of Avon Outreach, confirmed Schloat’s statement that one of the best aspects of the program is getting to know the athletes. 

“I’d say I know 95% of them at this point,” Wirpel said. “It’s fun to interact with them. A lot of them are really funny.” 

Farmington Valley Special Olympics utilizes AOF facilities and student-volunteers for two of their sports seasons. In the fall, the Field House basketball courts are the scene of spirited pick-up games, skill-building exercises, and excited cheers of encouragement. 

In the spring, from early March until this past Wednesday, Avon Old Farms students and local Special Olympics athletes gather on the George Trautman Field Complex to participate in soccer drills and scrimmages. 

“The soccer program is great because it gets everyone outside,” Schloat said.

Frederick Clark, a day student from Simsbury who will be returning in the fall for his senior year, is another regular volunteer for Special Olympics practices. He said he has enjoyed making connections with the athletes, who are already so close with one another. 

“They’re all so close,” Clark said. “It really is like any other sports team.”

Clark said one of the most rewarding aspects has been introducing some of his fellow Avon Brothers to the program. 

“It’s been especially fun to bring some of the other boys down from campus to get involved,” Clark said. 

Amanda Parolise and Kerry Tharpe, local coordinators for Special Olympics Connecticut, said the long-time partnership with Avon Old Farms has proven to be a beneficial one for their athletes. 

“They like having new people to play against,” Parolise said. 

“It’s fun for them to get out and play but there’s also an important social aspect,” Tharpe added. 

While the local soccer program at AOF has ended for the year, the national Special Olympics games are just getting started. The opening ceremony of the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games takes place on Sunday, June 5, followed by a week of competition. 

Tharpe and Parolise, along with other local athletes and volunteers, are participating in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, a symbolic passing of the Olympic Torch that traditionally leads up to the start of the Olympic Games. 

On Thursday, June 2, the torch will be carried from the Dunkin Donuts on Albany Turnpike, down Route 44, and ending at the Avon Old Farms Hotel.

Once the 2022 games end, there are a few months before Special Olympics basketball starts again at AOF. Luckily, there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities for students and other friends of the school to get involved with.

For more information on those opportunities, you can visit the community service section of the school’s website.