Special Olympics BC youth programs: building a firm foundation for children and youth with intellectual disabilities

Active Start athlete and program leader holding hands while stretching their legs in a warmup
Active Start athletes and program leaders support each other and stay active together!

“Special Olympics is truly an amazing organization. It changes people’s lives. It has changed our life,” says Candy Gubbels. 

Gubbels is the mother of Jason Gubbels, who is now a successful Special Olympics athlete and graduate of SOBC Athlete Leadership programs. Jason got his start with Special Olympics through Active Start, one of SOBC's youth programs tailored for children with intellectual disabilities. 

At first, Gubbels said, “I, as a parent of a special needs child participated with him... I was always so nervous that Jason wouldn’t be following the instructions."

However, with the help of the youth program leaders, Jason slowly became acclimated to the environment, even if he was just “running around in circles with the other children,” Gubbels said. 

It was a delight to see him happy and confident while making new friends in SOBC youth programs.

“It was the beginning of me being able to relax and enjoy watching my son from the sidelines, like every other parent of a child participating in sport. Special Olympics is more than sport to my son. It has allowed him to grow as a person.”

Experiences like Jason’s show how SOBC's youth programs help children and youth with intellectual disabilities to enjoy physical and social developments from an early age. SOBC provides two low-cost youth programs that help them develop basic motor and sports skills through fun and supportive environments.

Active Start is a 12-week family-centered program that teaches children from ages two to six basic motor skills such as walking, running, jumping, and throwing. 

Children progress through Active Start at their own pace and when they feel ready, they graduate to FUNdamentals. This program provides a continuation of motor development as well as introductions to sport-oriented activities. 

The age range for this program is from seven to 11 years old. However, SOBC youth programs are flexible to support the athlete as they can move on to FUNdamentals whenever they feel comfortable.

As Gubbels recalled how much fun Jason had at the Active Start program, she realized that Special Olympics was where they belonged. 

“Special Olympics is where Jason found himself and for that as a parent, I am forever grateful.”

SOBC School Sports Vancouver Island 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament Made Its Return

SOBC athlete shooting a basketball with others contesting his shot
The return of the SOBC School Sports Vancouver Island 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament created a fun and competitive environment!

In addition to these youth programs, Special Olympics BC offers School Sport programs across the province that foster inclusive communities for students with intellectual disabilities.

Sports that are offered in School Sport programs are basketball, 3-on-3 soccer, and track and field.

One of these programs that has been widely popular over the years is the SOBC School Sports Vancouver Island 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament.

The event made its return in May 2022 after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forty-five students from five Vancouver Island schools participated in the fourth edition of the tournament, which took place at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School in Courtenay.

Once again, it was a tremendous success.

This marked the first time that Special Olympics Unified teams were created for the tournament, where both students with and without intellectual disabilities shared the court together.

Randy James, the Local Coordinator for SOBC – Comox Valley and tournament organizer, marveled at how special of an environment these Unified teams created.

"I saw a lot of words of encouragement from athletes towards other athletes that were here, not just within the same team... but also opposition teams within the Unified division,” James said.

The inclusive nature of the event enabled students with intellectual disabilities to build new friendships outside of their usual social circles.

“They feel a part of a community, they realize that they're not isolated. ... They're a part of a much broader segment of society and they develop friendships with a lot of other individuals that aren't necessarily Special Olympics athletes,” James said.

Many were involved in the organization of this year’s event. A huge thank you to all the athletes, referees, student volunteers, and school staff who made this year’s event a great success!

It takes a village to uplift each other and foster inclusion; James embraces this outlook. “We are a village and we all work together for a common goal and for a common good. And that is to support those athletes moving forward.”

Get involved in empowering children with intellectual disabilities through our youth programs by registering with SOBC today!

To start a School Sports program, find out more here.

Learn more about SOBC youth programs by contacting Amy Gibb, SOBC Youth Development Coordinator, at agibb@specialolympics.bc.ca or 250-252-0515.

Sincere thanks to the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Canada, Methanex, and Tim Hortons for sponsoring SOBC’s youth programs and supporting athlete development throughout B.C.

SOBC Youth Programs homepage