The SF Network

Inclusion in Action: Sports Facilities Adapting for Athletes with Disabilities

Athletes with special needs are taking center stage as our  SF Network sports facilities across the country roll out innovative programming and events tailored to their unique abilities. These venues are actively cultivating an environment that celebrates diversity, fosters inclusivity, and challenges the conventional norms of athleticism. These trailblazing sports centers within our network are redefining the athletic experience for athletes with special needs.

Wintrust Sports Complex, Bedford Park, IL – Home of Special Olympics Illinois

Championing inclusivity in sports, Chicago’s Wintrust Sports Complex is the home venue of Special Olympics Illinois (SOIL), in an ongoing partnership with the organization. The venue hosts SOIL’s regular sporting events, including weekly basketball practices and tournaments, plus special events.

The venue partnered with Advent Health Medical Group to host SOIL’s Medfest, a one-of-a-kind event offering free sports physicals for those with disabilities. More than 600 spirited athletes took advantage of the event, designed exclusively for Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District locations, residential and workshop facilities, as well as private agencies.

“Special Olympics Illinois is so grateful for our amazing partnership with Wintrust Sports Complex of Bedford Park,” said Melissa Garritano, Senior Director of Special Olympics Illinois. “Not only has our partnership grown over the past two years, but Wintrust Sports Complex has also connected us with other generous organizations who have brought additional opportunities to our Special Olympics Illinois Athletes.”

Pelican Bay Aquatic Center, Edmond, OK Scholarships, AKTION Club, and More

In 2023, Pelican Bay Aquatic Center underwent renovations, which allowed General Manager Marina Wells more time to improve scholarship offerings and make recreational activities more accessible for everyone in Oklahoma.

Marina Wells’ endeavors in inclusion are highlighted by the innovative programs she has integrated. One program, in collaboration with AKTION Club for Disabled Adults, allows members of the organization to earn a season pass to Pelican Bay by volunteering a few hours each month. “They help out with easy tasks that are overlooked, such as sweeping some leaves, netting the pool, and collecting trash in the parking lot, said Wells. “I offered them free passes, but they wanted to feel like they’d earned it, which I love.”

Marina also plans to lead a water safety program tailored for families with individuals on the Autism spectrum. This collaboration with Autism Oklahoma provided ‘Water Safety Wednesday’ sessions in the summer months, teaching critical skills and ensuring safety around water for this special group.

To advocate inclusivity further, Pelican Bay Aquatic Center was invited to participate in a trial run of Swim Angelfish’s adaptive training course. This enabled staff to become certified in adaptive swimming, thereby broadening the scope of their programs to accommodate special needs athletes in areas beyond swimming. “We are proud to support Swim Angelfish and their mission of offering more inclusive services to everyone,” said Wells.

Hoover Met Complex, Hoover, AL – The Hartford Nationals

The Hartford Nationals, a prestigious national multi-sport event for athletes with physical, visual, and/or intellectual disabilities, will return to the Hoover Metropolitan Complex (HMC) in 2024. The event is presented by Move United, a national nonprofit and affiliate of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, and is the largest and longest-standing national competition of its kind.

In 2023, the HMC served as the hub for the opening ceremony and hosted multiple disciplines, including wheelchair tennis, shooting, and archery. This year, the complex will once again be the center stage for these exciting competitions, providing athletes with a familiar and supportive environment to showcase their skills.

The 2024 event marks the 68th year of competition and only its third time in Alabama. Athletes need to qualify through local or regional events to compete in the Hartford Nationals, which serves as a pipeline to compete internationally and in the Paralympics.

This pinnacle of adaptive sports demonstrates the event’s long-standing tradition and significance in promoting sports among individuals with disabilities. With more than 400 athletes with disabilities and coaches expected to participate, the weeklong event includes competitions, clinics, education, and social opportunities. The sports that will be contested include archery, para powerlifting, para-triathlon, shooting, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair tennis.

The return of the Hartford Nationals to Hoover also highlights the adaptive capabilities of the Hoover Met Complex. The venue has proven its ability to accommodate athletes’ special needs, ensuring accessibility, comfort, and safety for all participants. This reflects Hoover’s commitment to fostering an inclusive sporting community that values every athlete’s potential.

Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheater, Albertville, AL ­– The Miracle League

In the heart of Albertville, Alabama, the Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheater is making waves in the world of inclusive sports. The park hosts the Miracle League, a non-competitive recreational league open to people of all ages and abilities. This initiative is carried out in partnership with Mountain Lakes Behavioral Healthcare, a local organization with over 50 years of experience in providing excellent mental health treatment services.

The Miracle League is designed to provide individuals with disabilities, regardless of their level, the chance to participate in baseball. Whether they’re 5 or 99, every participant gets the opportunity to put on a uniform and step onto the field.

The league is split into two divisions to cater to different age groups. The 15U league welcomes players aged 5-15, while the 16U league is tailored for those aged 16 and above. This ensures that each participant can play in an environment that’s both safe and suitable for their age group.

Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheater’s commitment to hosting the Miracle League demonstrates how sports facilities can accommodate athletes with special needs. The park has been recognized for its efforts, being named a Readers’ Choice All-Star Outdoor Sports Events Venue by SportsEvents Magazine.

These accommodations and offerings highlight the positive impact sports can have on individuals with disabilities. It’s a testament to the belief that every person, regardless of ability, deserves the opportunity to participate in sports and reap the benefits of physical activity.

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