Green grass and a crack of the bat.
Around this ball diamond, it’s hard to tell who is having more fun, the athletes or the Special Olympic volunteers.
Smiles are everywhere in south-end Barrie’s Madelaine Park as softball coach Dustin Agar whips his Special Olympian charges into shape with jumping jacks, stretches and a little base-running.
Volunteering gives him a sense of purpose and accomplishment, Agar tells BarrieToday.
“It’s also a lot of fun and helps me fulfill my passion for sports while being able to give back to those who aren’t as traditionally able to participate in sports as easily as you or I," he says.
His association with Special Olympics began in 2014.
“A friend of mine has a brother with special needs and I have always been very much into sports, especially baseball. So I decided to combine my passion with sports with my desire to give back," Agar says.
After coaching for a couple years, in 2016 Agar and the team qualified for the 2017 Special Olympics Provincial Games in Peel Region. That’s when he decided to put some fun into fundraising for Special Olympics Barrie.
The Barrie Community of Special Olympics Ontario offers training in 14 different sports throughout the year. Athletes are provided an opportunity to increase skill and fitness levels through regular physical activity. And there’s a chance to compete at the local, regional, provincial, national and even world levels.
“Leading up to the provincial games in 2017, I thought we should have new gear and I had the idea to do some fundraising,” says Agar. “I play a lot of slo-pitch in the Barrie community, so I decided to run a charity tournament to raise money to help pay for new gear and our travel accommodations for the games.”
The initial 16-team tournament raised $7,000 for Special Olympics Barrie and has raised $55,000 over five years. This year’s event is on May 21 at the Barrie Community Sports Complex in Midhurst. (Check out their Facebook page for details. Residents can support the tournament by donating or sponsoring as a business.)
Agar has his sights on raising $15,000 this year.
The tournament has been great in bringing awareness to the community because of its integrated format, he says.
“I put a member of Special Olympics on each team and everyone loves it. Both the Special Olympians and the others playing on the team consider themselves lucky and honoured to play with one another," he says.
“It is definitely a matter of both sides winning,” Special Olympics Barrie community co-ordinator Dawn Windross tells BarrieToday of volunteers and athletes interacting.
“Our athletes are so appreciative of the volunteers and coaches,” she says. “And it is is so rewarding to see someone you work with blossom and come into their own, and see them going on and graduating to different tournaments.”
It's a win-win situation for all involved.
“If you talk to most of our volunteers that’s what you find,” she says, adding many thank the athletes for allowing them to volunteer.
Agar says volunteers “are crucial” to every aspect of what makes Barrie the wonderful place it is.
“Giving your time and energy into programs that giving back to the community, and the people in it who need its services the most, are vital. Without volunteers many would not get programs and services that they desperately want, and need,” he says.
“The feeling I get while volunteering is mostly one of perspective,” Agar adds. “I coach athletes who always are upbeat and positive, which helps me put my own life in perspective.”