A Message from the President & CEO: 2023 Quarter 3

I love our Fall sports season because so much is happening. From August to December athletes train and compete in kayaking, golf, cycling, flag football, long-distance running, powerlifting, soccer, tennis, and bowling. 10 sports in these five months are more sports opportunities than any other season during the year. In addition, we’re seeing positive trends in participation (see table below) with more athletes competing when compared to pre-covid numbers.

Our late summer/fall season kicked off with 101 athletes and 11 Unified® teammates competing at our state Kayak championship on the Chester River hosted by Washington College. As the fall continued, we had 161 athletes and 86 Unified ® teammates competing during our golf season which included a series of one-day qualifying tournaments leading up to our state championship which was canceled due to Tropical Storm Ophelia. Unfortunately, we’re not able to reschedule the tournament.

What I like most about the fall season is that our flag football and soccer athletes have the opportunity to play frequently in a league-type format. I recently enjoyed a weekend of watching our athletes compete in three different sports. On Saturday morning soccer league play started at 8:00 am at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia with games being contested on two fields over five hours with the last game kicking off at noon. This schedule allows all 16 teams to play a meaningful schedule of games leading up to our qualifying tournament (October 15th) and state tournament in Fruitland on October 29th.

  Sport2023 2022 2019 
AthletesUnified TeammatesTotalAthletesUnified TeammatesTotalAthletesUnified TeammatesTotal
Cycling1000100750751050105
Flag Football Teams  19  16  16
Flag Football Athletes193342271381915713421155
Golf161862471538223515382235
Long Distance Running495542823036238
Powerlifting550553803846046
Soccer Teams  17  14  28
Soccer Athletes380314111902021034082422
Tennis126341603412468024104

On that same Saturday, I headed over to see flag football at Howard High School under the lights in Howard County. Three fields provided 19 teams (the most ever since we introduced the sport) with a competitive and fun experience for our athletes. And we had really good officials overseeing the games.  As simple as it sounds, it’s great to see two striped shirted officials on each field calling the games for our teams.

The weekend wrapped up with a qualifying tournament at the Towson University tennis center. On Sunday 76 singles/doubles players along with 56 individual skills athletes competed to advance to our Fall Sports Tennis championship scheduled for October 21st at Mount St. Mary’s.

Our Interscholastic Unified Sports (IUS) fall season is also underway with IUS tennis teams in school districts across the state competing weekly leading up to district tournaments for the right to advance to the state tournament at the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) on November 7th. Additionally, for the first time, three high schools in Allegany County, Allegany HS, Mountain Ridge, and Fort Hill are piloting IUS Flag Football, with a season-ending tournament scheduled for October 24th.

We’re also in the second two of our Unified® Intramural program at Towson University with soccer kicking off the fall season. Four Unified® teams that include Towson students, students from the Hussman Center, and SOMD athletes from the community come together every Wednesday night for a six-week season. This will be followed up by Flag Football also with a six-week season starting on October 25th.  And there is more, we have our first ever Lower Shore Bocce League with 13 teams from 4 adult agencies competing. Our Young Athletes program has almost 3,900 young athletes and Unified® teammates participating in schools throughout the state.

I am so proud of our sports department and local program department for their commitment to providing these opportunities. I am grateful for the thousands of dedicated volunteers who will give their time, energy, and expertise this fall to ensure that our athletes have high-quality experiences. It’s fitting that amid this busy fall season, October 6th was National Coaches Day a well-deserved day of recognition for the incredible group who coach our athletes. A special thanks to all of the venues like Towson University, Mount St. Mary’s, the Severn School, the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD), the JTCC, and others who host our athletes.

So thank you to everyone who invests in our athletes. As you know we’re heading into our 2024 MSP Polar Bear Plunge season. The Plunge is the single biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland having raised $3.6m of our $8m budget last year. So for all of you who plunge, thank you…this is why you do it. The call to action is to sign up today…You PLUNGE, so our athletes can PLAY and you are providing them with extensive, exceptional year-round opportunities.

With gratitude,

Jim