Young athletes learn through play 



By Jessie Wagoner


Children of all abilities are learning and growing through the Special Olympics Young Athletes’ program in McPherson County. The program teaches children age three to seven important skills they will use in the future as athletes. 


Each Monday evening from 6-7 p.m. young athletes are gathering at Trinity Lutheran Church to play together and learn new skills. Mixed in with plenty of giggles are important activities that help children develop their motor skills. Balancing a ball on a paddle while attempting to walk across the gym and improving their flexibility while pretending to be bears and jumping frogs are just a few ways the children are growing through play. 


“The activities are fun for them, but also help them develop skills they will use playing sports in the future,” Tami Schropp with McPherson County Special Olympics said. 


Schropp and other leaders get to know each child, assessing their current skills and helping them through activities during the evening. The children practice early basketball skills by throwing a ball through a hula hoop. They work on developing their listening skills through a game of red light, green light. 


“It has been 11 years at least since we have done the young athletes’ program,” Schropp said. “We are trying to get more children involved in Special Olympics at a younger age and keep them involved.” 


The young athletes’ program is unique in that it includes children ages 3-7 of all abilities. Some of the children participating have disabilities while others are peers who serve as buddies. The children learn and play beside one another. Once children are 8 years old, they can participate in a multitude of Special Olympics events. 


“At this age, the children really love playing games with their buddies and having fun together,” Schropp said. 


COVID led to many activities and events being canceled, which was difficult for Special Olympics athletes. Not only are the activities a social outlet, providing a chance for the athletes to connect with others, but they provide much-needed exercise and physical activity. 


“Special Olympics has been trying to do zoom activities so the athletes can get on and do group exercises and activities,” Schropp said. “We have been encouraging walking and working with getting families to do activities since some of the teams haven’t been able to get together. We are trying to help them stay active and fit.” 


McPherson County has an active group of Special Olympics athletes participating in all kinds of events. Swimming, volleyball, basketball, track and field and bowling are all popular. However, Special Olympics is only possible with a network of coaches, volunteers, donors and athletes. Schropp says anyone wanting more information about how to participate in Special Olympics, whether as an athlete, volunteer or donor can visit the state website at


McPherson County Special Olympics can also be found on Facebook where they regularly post updates about upcoming activities and events.