Elena Cawley


If no director is found by the end of the year, all Area 13 Special Olympics events will be suspended, according to Joanne Drumright, vice president of field services and director of golf for the organization.

Area 13 Special Olympics covers Coffee, Franklin, Moore, Lincoln and Bedford counties.

With former director Gary Gesell stepping down a few months ago, the organization has been seeking a new director in time to organize the upcoming bowling games, usually held in October.

The deadline for filing the paperwork for the bowling event was Monday of last week. With no forms filed for Area 13, the deadline has been extended, said Drumright.

During a meeting at the Coffee County Administration Plaza in Manchester on Monday, Drumright did not outline a specific deadline for the bowling registration, but did say that if no one steps up for the director’s position by Dec. 31, the Area 13 Special Olympics “will go into suspended state.”

That means the events in the spring are in jeopardy, as well. About 400 athletes participated at the most recent competition, held at the Tullahoma High School Wilkins Stadium in April.

The spring events include 25-meter wheelchair race, 50-meter run, 100-meter run, 100-meter walk, 200-meter run, long jump, standing long jump, softball throw, 4×100 meter relay and Bocce ball disciplines.


Upcoming bowing games

The bowling events have been hosted by the Tullahoma Bowling Lanes for more than 20 years, with about 300 athletes competing.

The Special Olympics bowling games for students and adults are held on separate dates, usually a few weeks apart. About 30 schools in the district and all skills development centers usually participate in the competition.

One of the organizations looking forward to the games is Skills Development Services (SKS), serving Coffee, Bedford and Lincoln counties.

“Our guys look forward to this every year, so we are a little bit bummed about it,” said Amelia Majors, day coordinator supervisor for SKS. “I have been with Skills Development since 1999, and we have done it every year. Just in the agency I work for, we roughly have about 150 to 200 clients that would participate in this event.”

Practicing for the competition in October begins in March, said Majors.

“There will be bowling games,” Drumright said. “We are not going to stop anybody from doing anything. And if they want to come to the state tournament, they need to call me directly, and I will see that there is a process in order to help them get there.”

The local program has the right to hold Special Olympics events until Dec. 31, according to Drumright.

“The local programming is accredited through the end of the year,” Drumright said.

Area 13 representatives still have the right to hold events, participate, raise funds and use the organization’s logos, name and branding, according to Drumright.

“But once Dec. 31 comes about,” she said, “if we don’t have something in place, then we will go into a suspended state, and we will have to wait until we get our accreditation back and get the leadership team back together.”

In addition to the bowling games, there is an aquatics competition in November, said Drumright.


About Special Olympics

Special Olympics provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The organizations serves more than 18,000 athletes in the state.

“We also offer unified sports opportunities,” Drumright said.

Special Olympics hosts more than 250 events, in 17 sports, per year in Tennessee, and it offers opportunities for higher level competitions.



“We are a worldwide organization,” Drumright said. “We are governed by an international board of directors. There are people from all over the world serving on that board of directors.”

On top of the leadership pyramid is the board of directors of Special Olympics, with the headquarters located in Washington, D.C. At the next level down are the leadership groups of North America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, Europe-Eurasia, Latin America and Middle East-North Africa.

In North America, there are Mexico National, Canada National, Caribbean National and the United States programs. Under the 51 United States programs are the area/county sub programs.

“Tennessee is one of the 51 programs, and under that are the area programs,” Drumright said.


Local area programs

There are 36 area programs in Tennessee, which provide opportunities in counties across the state.

Each local area program is managed by an area director and an area management team.

There are training and competition opportunities in alpine skiing, aquatics, basketball, unified basketball, bocce, unified bocce, bowling, unified bowling, flag football, unified flag football, golf, power lifting, soccer, snowboarding, speed skating, tennis, volleyball, and unified volleyball.

Coffee County is in Area 13, which is called the Lower Cumberland Region, and also includes Franklin, Moore, Lincoln and Bedford counties.

“In order for Area 13 to use the name ‘Special Olympics,’ to raise money in the name of Special Olympics and to host an event, you have to be accredited with the state office,” Drumright said. “The state office does not charge you for that accreditation; you just have to fill out the paperwork. The state office has to be accredited with the international office, and we have to pay a fee every month.”


Area director’s responsibilities

“The management team on a local level is driven by an area director,” Drumright said. “The director will structure, with the help of community, a management team for this region that will manage all the competitions, all the volunteers, the games, the fundraising, the coaches’ education and athlete training.”

This is a voluntary position. The area director is tasked with organizing the events for all five counties. He or she is the driving force and the connection between the county coordinators, the schools and the local volunteers, Drumright said.

The director is in charge of the fundraising events, local training and competitions, and is in contact with representatives of adult programs and with the families of the athletes.

“The director is responsible for all the coaches and volunteers and any paperwork we need for those, to stay in line with our insurance company and meet all our liability criteria,” Drumright said. “The director is responsible for funding the program, fundraising, and he or she will report to the state’s finance department.”


Past, present and future

“Gary (Gesell) and (his wife) Chip have done a phenomenal job over the last five years,” Drumright said. “They are ready to pass the torch. Right now, we are in a transition, and we don’t have an area director.”

Now, Drumright said the most important thing is to keep the conversation going.

“I am not going to lie to you,” Drumright said. “It takes time, especially coming new into it.”

Gesell, who also attended the meeting, said that with the help of the volunteers, the job is not nearly as consuming as it seems.

“The hard part is the operations – getting all materials there, getting the venues set up – that took a lot of extra time,” Gesell said. “And it would be nice if you have 33 schools and 800 athletes all send the paperwork at the same time. But that doesn’t happen, and you’re calling 10 schools to tell them they’re late. You can spend as much or as little as you want.”

Drumright said she’s confident the local program will find new leadership.

“I have all the confidence in the world that this program is not going to go into suspended state,” she said. “We will find a solution here. We will find a management team that will be inclusive of the schools and the community.”

For more information, call Drumright at (615)-478-3034. Elena Cawley may be reached by email at tngenrep@lcs.net.

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