Since 2012, Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks’ Therapeutic Recreation Division has continued to expand its strong partnership with Special Olympics Maryland. This partnership has allowed the Special Olympics program in Baltimore City to increase the number of athletes participating in community based programming and in programming geared toward individuals in day care programs. The Therapeutic Recreation Division has taken a leadership role in these programs providing staffing, coaches, facilities, and administration of the programs.
Prior to 2012, the Special Olympics Program in Baltimore City was primarily scholastic based within the Baltimore City public school system. In 2012, Baltimore City Recreation and Parks began increasing the number of programs from the three programs geared towards participants from day care centers offered (one bocce ball session and two skills building basketball sessions), adding programs each programming cycle. Today, there are ten programs offered during the day for participants from adult day care centers and the local community. These programs include three sessions of bocce ball (indoor and outdoor), two sessions of soccer (indoor and outdoor), softball, and four sessions of skills building basketball. These programs are in-house programs that practice for a set amount of weeks and conclude with a championship competition on the final day. The final day championship includes opening ceremonies, competition, lunch provided by the ARC of Dundalk and a medal awarding ceremony.
One of the most popular programs offered in partnership with Maryland Special Olympics is the Wednesday Night Unified Basketball League. Unified sports combine Special Olympics athletes with their non-disabled peers (partner athletes) of similar ability to form teams for competitive play. In basketball, the on-court composition of three Special Olympics athletes and two non-Special Olympics teammates provides a valuable and fun experience for all team members. This year, over 80 athletes and partners played in the seven-week program which included an assessment, five regular season games, and the final championship games. All of the championship games were very competitive and exciting. The evening concluded with the awarding of ribbons for 4th – 6th place and medals for the top three teams.
In the spring of 2013, BCRP developed a community based unified bocce ball program. This program included athletes and partners ages 8 and above. The athletes and partners competed in two multi-county competitions and in the state games at Towson University. This program has grown from one of the smallest in the state in 2013 to the 2nd largest bocce ball contingent at the 2016 state games. In the winter of 2015, adult basketball was added and grew to include two teams (one traditional and one unified) in the winter of 2016. In the fall of 2016, adult unified soccer was added.
Last year, over 600 athletes and partners participated in the fourteen different programs offered through Baltimore City Recreation and Parks and Special Olympics Maryland. Without this partnership, these 600 individuals would not have had the opportunity to compete in the sports they love. The Therapeutic Recreation Division continues to explore opportunities to expand the partnership with the Special Olympics Maryland in the future.