Special Olympians ready to make a splash at June state games

May 18—ADAMS — Eight local swimmers are training for the 2024 Special Olympics State Summer Games scheduled for June 14 and 15 in Ithaca.

The local Special Olympians are members of the Jeff-Lewis Training Club, founded in 2009 by Michael N. Deline, Watertown and Laura L. Jerome, Adams. The swimmers are part of a group of athletes who are busy all year. The eight swimmers are the only members of the local Training Club heading to the State Summer Games, although several other athletes are involved in the club's various sports.

"We do swimming, track and field, volleyball and in the summer we do bocce ball," Deline said. "In the winter, we do snow-shoeing. The swimming is on Thursday nights at South Jefferson Middle School."

The athletes take part in bocce ball at the Italian- American Club in Watertown.

"We do volleyball at Sherman Street school and track and field at Watertown High School," Deline said. "We do snow-shoeing, usually up at the (Thompson) park somewhere."

The eight swimmers is a rather large local contingent for the June games, Deline said.

"We only had four go before," he said. "In track and field, we really don't have enough kids to take anybody and in volleyball, we just started that last year. They're still learning."

Deline got involved with Special Olympics as he began coaching his son, Jeffrey, in 2009. Jeffrey is one of the swimmers going to the summer games.

"I used to take him to Syracuse every Friday night, from January to June, for swimming," Deline said, with his son becoming a member of the Central New York Special Olympics Swimming Club. Deline and Jeffrey made this trip for six years before Deline considered the creation of something similar locally, not through schools.

Deline said that before the Jeff-Lewis Training Club was formed, teachers would select Special Olympian athletes out of gym classes. He explained that students who had graduated from school were not involved in Special Olympics in the north country. Also because the way athletes were selected, students who may have wanted to be involved in Special Olympics may not have been invited to participate.

"There was never really anything organized," Deline said. "So I got together with Laura Jerome, who used to go with the school groups. We got together and formed the swimming. Since then, we've started track and field, volleyball and bocce ball."

In February of 2009, Deline and Jerome met with a representative of the Central Region of Special Olympics and the north country chapter, the Jeff-Lewis Training Club, was created. It has continued to grow over the years, such as the addition of volleyball last year, with Deline as coach. Jerome is the coach of the swim team.

The 2024 Special Olympics Special Games will be held at various locations throughout Ithaca. The host site is Ithaca College. Eight sports will be offered for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009) founded Special Olympics in 1968. A year later, Dorothy Buehring Phillips inaugurated the program in New York and the state sent its first delegation of athletes and coaches to the Northeast Regional Special Olympics competition in Boston. Special Olympics New York was incorporated in 1970 with Phillips as its first state director. In June 1970, Rochester hosted the first State Summer Games. Today, Special Olympics New York is the largest program in the United States and one of the largest in the world.

In September, Jeff-Lewis Training Club members competed in a regional bocce ball tournament in Rome. The trio, consisting of Amanda Graves, Roy Moreton and Jeffrey Deline, finished in second place, earning a silver medal.

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The Jeff-Lewis Training Club is seeking volunteer coaches. If interested, contact Michael Deline at 315-788-4791. Also, anyone interested in more details on the club and participating can also contact him.