29 Years of Special Olympics NC Alpine Games – By: Eric Hess

The 2006 Special Olympics Southeast Region Alpine Games are this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (February 5th, 6th and 7th) at Appalachian Ski Mountain.

For 29 years Jim Cottrell and the French Swiss Ski College staff have organized and conducted the Special Olympics North Carolina Alpine Competition at Appalachian Ski Mountain.

In 1977 North Carolina Special Olympics, Inc. approached Cottrell to help train athletes for the first Special Olympic Winter Games to be held in Colorado. Before sending North Carolina Special Olympians out west to compete, Jim held the training at his home mountain – Appalachian Ski Mountain. The seven North Carolina team members joined hundreds of other skiers for the first Special Olympic Winter Games in Colorado that year.

A generous equipment manufacturer furnished all of the necessary ski equipment to the athletes for competition. When the games were over the equipment could not be found anywhere. A plan had not been developed on how to handle equipment for the mentally challenged. (If you have ever been on a ski trip with a group of kids, you know what a horror show it can be. Try it with several hundred!)

In 1978 North Carolina Special Olympics and Jim Cottrell of the French Swiss Ski College organized the Southeast Region winter games. Three hundred athletes from North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida gathered in Boone for the first Regional Winter Special Olympic games ever held.

Equipment handling and grouping of athletes were still the major problems facing the organizers. At the end of the 1978 games, a committee of French-Swiss staff was formed to solve these problems. By the time the 1979 Regional games were over a manual had been written on how to conduct Special Olympics Winter Alpine Games.

Eunice Shriver, head of International Special Olympics, heard about the French-Swiss program and came to the third games and observed the entire event. At the end of the event Eunice requested Jim Cottrell to join the winter advisory committee with Billy Kidd and Hal O’Leary. Billy Kidd is a past Olympian, and Hal operates the largest handicap skier training school in the USA, located in Winter Park, Colorado. Eunice also asked Jim to write the first manual for coaching Alpine skiing.

Jim had the manual completed by 1980 and traveled all over the USA and Canada assisting other areas in developing games and coaching methods. These manuals and methods developed in the early days by French Swiss Ski College for the Special Olympics Alpine Games are still in use today.

The January games for the SONC, as well as previous games, have been huge successes thanks to these manuals, the FSSC staff, the SONC staff, and all of the volunteers. There are too many names to list them all but kudos to Michael Welch, Travis Scott, Lanna Chandrasuan, and several other French Swiss staffers who have dedicated many years to the program. Mountain employees and games management team members like Keron Poteat, Marilyn Sturgill, Michael Maybee, Ron Henries, and Roachel Laney have also made these games possible.

The North Carolina Special Olympics has grown more and more each year. The first games held at Appalachian Ski Mountain had seven athletes; in January there were 110 athletes competing.

The 2006 Special Olympics Southeast Region Alpine Games are taking place this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (Feb 5-7) and more than 300 athletes are expected to compete.  The games are being held at Appalachian Ski Mountain.

Volunteers are invited and encouraged to come out and cheer for these athletes. Knowing how to ski helps, but many of the volunteers don’t even need to wear ski equipment. Warm clothing, smiles and encouragement are needed. The easiest way to volunteer is to simply show up and follow the signs to the Volunteer Registration areas or you can call Karon Poteat at Watauga County Parks and Recreation at 828-264-9511.
 
 
If you attend the games Sunday, Monday or Tuesday – get us some images to [email protected]

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.