For Matt Sitton, competing in Special Olympics Oklahoma’s Summer Games on Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus is more than a fun and friendly series of competitions, he and his extended OSU family have seen to that.
“I like bocce ball best because I get to [compete] by myself and then with my peer partner Braden,” he said. “Also, I get to see all my friends I’ve made through Special Olympics. I look forward to it all year. We have fun down here on the field where the football team plays.”
The lure of being on the field at Boone Pickens Stadium is a mighty pull for Matt, who describes himself as a big fan of Cowboys sports, and not just the football team. His peer partner Braden Young is the 14-year-old son of Chris Young, head coach of the OSU women’s tennis team.
“I signed up for the Peer Partner Program at the start of the year at my junior high,” Braden said. “The first day I met Matt we had so much in common, starting with our OSU-related interests. Matt and I connected right off and have become very good friends. I highly recommend getting involved with Special Olympics, at every level. It’s a fun way to really make a difference.”
Special Olympics Oklahoma is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 11,600 participants take part in more than 140 sports competitions and training clinic opportunities every year. In his dual role as partner and coach, Braden’s involvement goes beyond the purely physical competitions and training.
“We use sports to teach healthy living concepts and help Special Olympians to develop skills useful in going about their day-to-day activities,” Braden said. “There are little moments and big moments, and sometimes you think it is one when it turns out to be the other.”
Nor is Braden the only one from whom Matt can ask for a bit of brotherly advice. There is also OSU agricultural communications and agricultural education double major Kane Kinion, a senior from Pryor and cousin to Matt’s mother Shelly Sitton, OSU professor of agricultural communications.
“This is the third year I’ve been around Matt in terms of his Special Olympics activities,” said Kinion, who has served as president of Collegiate FFA and as an intern with OSU Agricultural Communications Services, the official media arm of the university’s two state agencies.
“One of the great things for everyone involved in Special Olympics Oklahoma is you get to see the best in people, be they athletes or supporters of the competitors or programs,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong: Special Olympians want to win, but I’ve played sports all my life and nowhere else have I seen sportsmanship showcased so strongly.”
Kinion believes a great benefit of having the Summer Games at OSU is that it gives university students a better opportunity to take part and serve the community.
“It’s not limited to Special Olympics,” he said. “OSU as a whole is heavily involved in special education. I think it’s cool the way OSU helps us students help others. That’s what community is all about. That’s an education in and of itself.”
The sentiment is echoed by Shelly Sitton, an OSU alumna who joined the faculty of the university’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources on Groundhog Day in 1992.
“One of the great things I’ve seen as both Matt’s mom and an OSU faculty member is the way Special Olympics promotes friendships, between the athletes, with students involved through the Peer Partner Program and between entire families,” she said. “I think it’s one of the best things OSU does. Special Olympics builds a sense of community in everyone involved.”
Shelly said while Matt has long been involved in what many people think of as traditional activities – making friends and interacting with people through FFA, school and the like – Special Olympics has been beneficial and provides something “extra special.” Matt first became involved as an 8-year-old through Special Olympics Oklahoma’s Stars of the Future program.
“Matt started in track and field events, and once bocce started he got right into that and has loved it,” she said. “There is such a joy in Special Olympics. So many kids don’t have the opportunity to participate in competitive programs, which are a hallmark of so many youth development groups. Special Olympics helps these kids remain physically active, while increasing their self-esteem and self-confidence and helping them to develop the social skills we all depend on in life.”
Thinking about becoming involved in Special Olympics Oklahoma? Contact the organization at http://www.sook.org/get-involved/ online. Not convinced yet? Matt Sitton has a few words of wisdom for you.
“Don’t be shy,” he said. “We’re fun people. We’re friendly. Come make new friends.”
And with that Matt smiled, raised his hands and gave a sign every fan in the extended OSU family knows all too well: Pistols firing. Are you listening Cowboys Nation?