Special Olympics' 40-year hold on Barry Switzer

COMMENTARY — On Wednesday Barry Switzer will celebrate his 40-year affiliation with Oklahoma Special Olympics. In those 40 years he's gone from a virtual recruiter for the event to the “head cheerleader, leader of the jubilee.”
by Berry Tramel Published: May 8, 2012
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Barry Switzer will spy a family in a restaurant. He'll notice a kid who's a little different. Maybe in the way they look, maybe in the way they talk, maybe in the way they walk. Or don't walk.

And Switzer will start up a conversation. “You going to Stillwater?”

Time was, Switzer was a virtual recruiter for Special Olympics. Back when he first became honorary coach of the Oklahoma Special Olympics, in 1974, Switzer needed to help drum up business.

Not so much anymore. The stigma is gone. The veil has fallen. Special-needs children, special-needs people, are not to be hidden, they are to be celebrated.

And celebrate Switzer will on Wednesday, for the 40th straight year, at the Special Olympic state games in Stillwater.

Before agreeing to be honorary coach, Switzer went to observe in 1973. He's been back every year in an official capacity. Honorary coach, head cheerleader, leader of the jubilee.

“Never missed,” Switzer said. “I didn't want to break the string, and I enjoyed it. Enjoyed working with the people.”

Switzer raves about the organizers and the athletes alike. He always had the face and the name to give Special Olympics a certain status, but “they were the ones that made it all happen.”

Memories flood Switzer's mind as he recalls 40 years of Special Olympics.

An 83-year-old female athlete. A little boy, walking alongside Switzer in the opening ceremonies of the International Special Olympics in Minneapolis, seeing Prince and Hulk Hogan and Evander Holyfield and saying, “Coach, coach! Boy, this is really big time, isn't it?”

And the people Switzer has met through Special Olympics. Sat two hours one day in a tent at the 1979 International Games in Brockport, N.Y., talking with Sally Struthers of “All in the Family” fame, and high jumper Dick Fosbury of Fosbury Flop fame, and a boxer of some repute. Muhammad Ali, before Parkinson's robbed him of the ability to coherently converse.

But what Switzer remembers most is the restaurants. The attitude of families and how it's changed over 40 years.

Special needs once was considered a shame. “They used to keep it secret, hidden,” Switzer said.

In his early days with Special Olympics, “what I saw was a lack of participation,” Switzer said. The families of the mentally and physically challenged were embarrassed. “They didn't want to take them out publicly.”


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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2012 SPECIAL OLYMPICS

* When: Wednesday-Friday

* Where: Stillwater (OSU campus and other locations around town)

* What: More than 4,000 athletes will compete in competitions ranging from bocce to power lifting.

SCHEDULE

Wednesday

* 11 a.m.: Powerlifting at Gallagher-Iba weightroom

* 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

* 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Bocce at Boone Pickens Stadium

* 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Softball at Sanborn Fields

* 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Track and Field at OSU track

* 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Golf at Lakeside Golf Course

* 2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

* 7:30 p.m.: Opening Ceremonies

Thursday

* 8 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

* 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Track and Field at OSU track

* 8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: Horseshoes at OSU Hall of Fame Field (west of track)

* 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: Bocce at Boone Pickens Stadium

* 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Softball at Sanborn Fields

* 10 a.m.: Mo-r activities at Colvin Center

* 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

* 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Bocce at Boone Pickens Stadium

* 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Golf at Lakeside Golf Course

* 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Horseshoes at OSU Hall of Fame Field

* 2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

Friday

* 8:30 a.m.: Closing Ceremonies at OSU track

* 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.: Bocce at Boone Pickens Stadium

* 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.: Horseshoes at OSU Hall of fame Field

* 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

* 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.: Track and Field at OSU track

* 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.: 3-on-3 basketball at Colvin Center

* 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.: Bowling at Frontier Lanes

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