Special Program Special To Northwest Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE --Without question, in 36 years of covering sports, chronicling the Texas State Special Olympics in the early 1990s in Denton, Texas, was the most emotional thing I ever witnessed.

Probably the most rewarding assignemnt, too.

Nothing's even come close. It was a time to count your blessings. A time to cheer, smile, hug and appreciate the joy of sports in its purest form.

Yeah, a few tears dripped from many eyes that night as more than 15,000 watched smiling young faces parade Olympic-style into Foust Field.

It was totally unforgetable.

Last week, something jogged the memory bank in form of an electronic mail received here in this office.

We get tons of e-mails -- to be truthful, a lot of it junk mail -- but this one in particular caught our attention.

It read:

The Fall 2004 Season of Champs League, Fayetteville's special needs softball team, is expanding to five Northwest Arkansas Communities.

The program for children (ages 5-17) with special needs starts the week of Sept. 13 (Monday) in Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and Siloam Springs.

The Champs League meets weekly at 6 p.m., starting the week of Sept. 13. The softball program will have teams in Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and Siloam Springs that allows everyone, regardless of mental, physical or any other challenge the ability to participate and succeed. In the Champs League, every child is a winner. Children play for the sheer enjoyment of the game. Fayetteville will also offer kickball/soccer.<

That kind of tugged at my heart, and made me think back to that night in Denton, several calendars back.

Sounds like a grand project.

What abut it, Kristi?

"Well, it's for kids that can't participate or play on regular teams," she said. "I don't know exactly all the parameters of the Special Olympics. We might have some kids who might qualify. I don't know.

"I think we have broader parameters."

Basically, sounds like a no-child-left-behind issue. Essentially, the mission statement is simple: Champs League is dedicated to provide fun sport options to children who cannot participate in regular sports programs due to their special needs.

"We'll take any child that can't play on regular teams," Sixkiller said. "And we encourage high school kids to volunteer, too.

"Kids helping kids. That's what it's all about."

Right now, Sixkiller is looking for a slew of volunteers. She is not in unchartered waters, either. This is not her maiden voyage.

Sixkiller, a Northwest Arkansas native, has over more than four years experience which includes building several special needs softball teams in the Dallas area. She started the teams in Dallas with 12 players and left 2 1/2 years later with more than 90 players and equally as many volunteers in the program.

"It is a privilege to grow Champs League to such an appreciative population," Sixkiller said. "The players are always so excited to be a part of their team, the parents are able to watch their child, some, for the first time, be involved in organized sports and the volunteers are so proud to be a part of such a positive, rewarding and fun kids program."


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