Special Olympics Fall Classic coming to Basin

Monahans High School junior Mason England poses for a photo with the Special Olympics torch and Assistant Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Brent Sheets and Midland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Thomas Gray Tuesday at the CEED Building. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

MIDLAND For the first time this fall, Special Olympics Texas’ Annual Fall Classic state tournament will take place in Odessa and Midland.

The event will take place Oct. 3-5 and competitions will include swimming, golf, equestrian, bocce and softball. The announcement was made Tuesday at the CEED Building. CBS 7 Anchor Jay Hendricks and University of Texas Permian Basin Chief of Staff/VP of Marketing and Communications Tatum Hubbard were the co-emcees.

“This really is a very big deal for our city,” said Hubbard, who was co-anchor with Hendricks on CBS 7 News for many years.

Hendricks has been part of Special Olympics for many years and is a former state board member.

Special Olympics Texas CEO Tim Martin said it was a visit to West Texas that made him realize that the organization should become mobile and offer everyone a chance to become part of Special Olympics whether you are volunteering, participating, or are a parent or grandparent.

Several of the speakers mentioned that they have relatives or friends who are Special Olympics athletes.

Martin said there was a bid process and Odessa and Midland said “we’re in.” There weren’t any questions.

“What an amazing community out here that we’ve got,” Martin said.

He added that there are many athletes who dream of participating in an event like this and would love to travel and go somewhere new.

Special Olympics Texas CEO Tim Martin speaks at the announcement about the Fall Classic coming to Odessa-Midland in October Tuesday at the CEED Building. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

“You’re going to see some people who are going to be treated like stars when they come out here, so thank you so much for opening those opportunities. Fall Classic is Oct. 3 through the 5th, first year in Midland and Odessa, obviously that’s what we’re celebrating today. Athletes will be competing in competitions across several sports — swimming, golf, equestrian, bocce, softball and the newest sport we have at the state level is fundamental. It’s for our most profoundly challenged athletes. I will tell you if you have a chance to come and be a part of that it’s a life-changing experience. So many people focus on the disabilities of individuals and what they can and can’t do. What I will tell you is our athletes have an amazing ability to change the human spirit,” Martin said.

“When you leave, you become a better person and there’s not very many environments where you get to be a part of that,” he added.

He added that he has a son in law enforcement and this is why it’s such a magnet for law enforcement.

“Basically, they often get to see the worst side of society. (With) our athletes, they get to see the best,” Martin said.

State Sen. Kevin Sparks, R-Midland, said it was an honor to be part of Tuesday’s event.

“Because as has already been stated, if these events don’t bring a smile to your face then you’ve got bigger issues,” Sparks said. “What an opportunity to really highlight the best people in the state of Texas, which are West Texans and show the rest of the state what it’s like to truly live as a community. (It’s) also a source of pride for me to be able to bring Midland and Odessa together once again. We’re getting better at it,” Sparks said.

He added that for those who have lived here a long time, it’s been a long time coming.

“But we are truly stronger together than we are separately … so it’s exciting to see both communities work together and UTPB. I’m expecting you guys are going to be wowed by the hospitality that you’ll see here at this event,” Sparks said.

Midland Mayor Lori Blong urged attendees to get involved and volunteer. Hubbard urged everyone to get others involved as well.

City of Odessa Mayor Javier Joven said he had a nephew who passed away at age 13 and was a Special Olympic athlete. Joven said it was going to be emotional for him to participate.

“We are excited and ready to participate and volunteer because if you never experienced anything like this, it’s not just a smile. It’s a life-changing event in your life; trust me. I have not participated … since 2000. It’s hard for me to do it. I know Saturday. We have Special Olympics and it is emotional and so I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a hard day. But I’m also challenging our city staff to be able to go out there and volunteer and every company, whether it’s one volunteer or 15 volunteers, we’re going to need you,” Joven said.

Midland Police Chief Seth Herman said this is an outstanding opportunity and he encouraged everyone to lend a hand.

Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke shared a story of a Special Olympics where two young women were in a race and one started, but the other did not. The one that started turned around and told her to come on.

“That’s the best of humanity right there,” Gerke said. “That’s what we celebrate in these games. That’s truly heart touching. Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball. You think about all the barriers that he broke down and also think about all the barriers that Special Olympics has broken down.”

He added that he encouraged everyone to volunteer and said they will get more out of it than the athletes do.

Shane Large, Midland production manager for ExxonMobil, speaks at the announcement about the Special Olympics Texas Fall Classic coming to Odessa-Midland, Tuesday at the CEED Building Tuesday. Large said the company was honored to serve as the presenting sponsor for the 2024 Special Olympics Fall Classic. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Shane Large, Midland production manager for ExxonMobil, said the company was honored to serve as the presenting sponsor for the 2024 Special Olympics Fall Classic.

“For Midland and Odessa to host the Fall Classic in October is a true testament to the strength and hospitality of both communities,” Large said.

Large said Special Olympics gives participants a chance to develop physical fitness, but demonstrate courage, experience joy and get to participate with other athletes as well.

“I think it does bring everybody together as a community and as well as the athletes. We take pride in showing up in our communities where we live and work and where we operate. We all have families here. Our colleagues live here. All the folks that do work for us live here in the community and so it’s just a tremendous opportunity for everybody to come together outside of work and what better cause than this,” Large said.

ExxonMobil presented a check for $50,000 to Special Olympics Texas during the event.

Carly Coker and Mason England, unified track athletes at Monahans High School, speak at the announcement for the Special Olympics Texas Fall Classic coming to Odessa-Midland in October. The announcement was made Tuesday at the CEED Building. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Monahans High School juniors Carly Coker and Mason England were introduced. Coker said they are a pair in unified track.

“Unified track has been amazing. I was asked what my track means to me and it means coming together as a whole and getting to see the student athletes work together and participate in things people might not think they can participate in is amazing, ” Coker said. “Getting to help Mason and everybody in unified track is just amazing for me and I think unified track has impacted me just as much as the student athletes. It’s just amazing to be a part of.”

England said track has really helped him as have the coaches who were in attendance. He participates in the shotput, the 400 and football, which he said has helped make him stronger.

Hubbard said in 2023, more than 1,500 athletes, 141 teams, 600 volunteers and their supporters and families helped to make the Fall Classic possible.

“That’s a lot of folks, right? For more information on volunteering for 2024 Special Olympics Texas Fall Classic. There is a website it’s very simple, SOTX.org,” Hubbard said.

At UTPB, Jacqui Gore, Vice President for Community Engagement and Partnerships, is the chairperson. She is there to organize the team.

“I encourage you to take some practical steps today to think about who’s your champion on your campus or where you work to make sure you start signing people up, saving the calendar today. That’s what’s going to make this successful is not thinking we’re going to do it, but putting a plan in action,” Hubbard said.