MILWAUKEE - High school, collegiate and professional sports have found a way back during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that has not been the case for Special Olympics.
Team Milwaukee Special Olympics is aiming to change that. They have continued to provide ways to keep their participants moving while their usual Special Olympics programs are on hold.
"It is really important to showcase these athletes. They are always happy, always happy go lucky, always fun," said Christine Cowan, supervisor of Team Milwaukee Special Olympics.
That is the goal of Team Milwaukee Special Olympics -- to keep athletes active and smiling.
"Really, it is about socializing and being a community. I like to say that we are all a big family here, so it is really, really important for these athletes to get outside. This is really their only activity out in the public right now," Cowan said.
The athletes are thankful for many reasons.
"This allows me to stay healthy," said Stephanie Suminski, Team Milwaukee Special Olympics member.
"If we're not coming here, we're at the house just chilling and stuff most of the time," said Phillip Morgan, Team Milwaukee Special Olympics member.
The pandemic forced Team Milwaukee Special Olympics to take a different approach this year.
"Being that our population is typically higher risk, we have had to change a lot of things. Usually, we are all about high-fives, and getting involved, and hugging, but now, we have to keep that social distancing alive. You’ll see masks being worn around, as well," Cowan said.
No contact sports have been allowed due to the pandemic, so the flag football season was canceled, but Team Milwaukee found another way for the athletes to stay active. The team hosted flag football skills practices that just wrapped up -- and now, the focus is on walking groups and outdoor yard games.
"Why we put these programs together out, in general, is just for the community -- for socializing, for having fun, getting a little bit of that competitive side out, but really allowing these athletes to have a safe place to have fun," Cowan said.
From giant Jenga, to ladder ball, to bean bag tosses -- being able to interact and compete with one another is a gift.
"I came a long way for this part. This... participating with my staff and my friends and everything else [is fun]," Morgan said.
Athletes in Special Olympics can join as young as 8 years old -- and some members stay on for decades, just like Stephanie Suminski, who has been with Team Milwaukee the last 30 years.
Meanwhile, others like Phillip Morgan have been with Special Olympics for about a year.
"You can do anything you put your mind to it. It's just all day. The kids want to do something. I’m going to do my part," Morgan said.
Staying active and together as one big family during a unique year has always been the top goal.
"After this or in the community, they just take the confidence that they gain and to use that outside of Special Olympics," Cowan said.
Team Milwaukee Special Olympics is in the process of moving into its fall indoor programming -- which features bowling season.
Learn more about Team Milwaukee Special Olympics.