Jackson County wins two Spirit of Special Olympics awards

Dale Hickman has been involved with Special Olympics for about 15 years.

The Law family — Heather, Jesse, Owen and Ruby — has been involved for a year and a half.

They all share the spirit of Special Olympics, a nonprofit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for individuals ages 8 and up with intellectual disabilities.

Each year, programs within the 10 areas in Indiana can submit nominations for the Spirit of Special Olympics Awards Program. Recognition is for athletes, coaches, families, volunteers and Law Enforcement Torch Run officers who have demonstrated outstanding support of Special Olympics Indiana and an overall commitment to the county program and exemplified the Special Olympics spirit of skill, courage, sharing and joy.

For 2022, Jackson County received two of the five awards for Area 2.

Hickman was named Athlete of the Year, and the Laws were named Family of the Year.

“Wow!” Hickman said of his reaction to the news. “Amazing. I love it.”

Heather Law said she was shocked when she checked her email one day and learned about the award.

“It was definitely a surprise because we just do what we love and to support our kiddos,” she said, as her son, Owen, 10, is among the Jackson County athletes.

After areas select a winner in each category, members of the Special Olympics Indiana board of directors review the nomination forms and select the state award winners. All area winners are invited to the state conference Oct. 29 in Noblesville to be recognized at a luncheon, and the state winner in each category will be announced.

All 2021 nominees who did not win an area award were automatically placed in the selection pool again for 2022. County programs also could still nominate new candidates.

Hickman was nominated for Athlete of the Year in 2021, so his name stayed in the pool for this year.

According to the nomination letter, he was one of the first ones to sign up for the virtual fitness challenges that were offered during the COVID-19 pandemic, and since in-person sports have resumed, he has participated in bocce, softball, corn toss, bowling and basketball.

He also was the first Jackson County athlete to get involved with Athlete Leadership University, which pairs an athlete with a mentor to pick a major and enroll in classes to build leadership skills, and was instrumental in getting the county’s Athlete Leadership Council up and running. He was elected vice chairperson for 2021 and moved up to chairperson earlier this year, as the group of athletes helps make suggestions for social activities and fundraisers.

Hickman also has been on the Seymour Tsunamis Polar Plunge team, sold frozen food items and mums as fundraisers, joined other athletes and volunteers in completing Jackson County United Way Day of Caring projects and assisted with other fundraisers, including car washes and golf scrambles, and the Easter egg hunt for individuals with special needs.

“If it wasn’t for athletes like Dale, our county program wouldn’t be what it is,” the nomination letter reads. “Special Olympics is all about the athletes, and he is one of the most involved people in our program. On top of that, he’s just a great guy to be around who is always positive, enjoys socializing and is comfortable talking to anyone. He’s the type of person we want involved in our program and representing our county.”

Hickman said he was a shy person when he was younger, but Special Olympics has helped him overcome that. He said his favorite thing is meeting new people.

The Laws were nominated for Family of the Year in 2022.

Owen was nearly 9 when he joined Special Olympics in the spring of 2021 and was Jackson County’s youngest competitor. He wanted to do track and field, and from the first practice on, his fellow athletes were amazed by how fast he was and really enjoyed watching him compete.

“It was great to see everyone embrace him from the get-go,” the nomination letter reads.

His parents continued to come to every practice and to the Area 2 meet and Summer Games to support not only Owen but the other athletes, too.

In the fall, Owen got involved in bowling, and again, his parents made sure he was at practices and tournaments. They also were there when he qualified for the state tournament and supported him and his teammates.

The county program also participated in the Seymour Oktoberfest parade, and the Laws were the first ones to offer use of their truck and trailer to give athletes and volunteers a chance to sit during the parade.

Next, Owen participated in the skills competition for basketball, earning a bronze medal at the state tournament.

Earlier this year, he did track and field again and competed in the area meet and Summer Games and then did the skills competition for softball. He’s now doing bowling again.

Heather joined the Polar Plunge team, and her family was there in February to support her fundraising efforts. Plus, she was part of the Day of Caring team.

The family also donated toward the Easter egg hunt and has been a hole sponsor for the county program’s golf scramble two years in a row.

“We appreciate all they have done and continue to do, and it’s great to have a family like this involved in our program,” the nomination letter says. “They definitely show the spirit of skill, courage, sharing and joy and demonstrate an overall commitment to our Special Olympics program.”

Heather said Owen loves running, but he has enjoyed trying other sports for the first time.

“About everything is new to him,” Jesse said.

“We had gone bowling as a family, but obviously, nothing competitive,” Heather said. “We tried youth soccer when he was little, and he did dance for a long time, but it was hard because he’s just quirky, and the coaches just didn’t get him. I think that has been a big point (with Special Olympics). He can just be himself and not try to fit in a box like they kind of do in other athletic things.”

She said Owen loves the socialization aspect of Special Olympics, too.

“He’s more social,” she said. “He gets excited about it, and of course, he loves winning, but I think he also has learned it’s OK to not always win as long as you try your best. He learns sportsmanship and how to cheer for peers, too.”

Heather said she and Jesse have benefited from their involvement, too.

“I feel like we can be ourselves,” she said. “The support we’ve gotten as parents, being able to connect with other families that get what it’s like to have a child with special needs, that has been huge for me, too.”

Founded in 1969, Special Olympics Indiana is one of more than 50 Special Olympics affiliates in North America. The program has grown to include nearly 15,000 athletes and Unified partners with the support of more than 10,000 coaches and volunteers throughout the state.

Special Olympics Indiana receives no federal or state-appropriated funds, is not a United Way Agency and relies entirely on corporate, civic and individual donations to keep the program free for athletes.