Baylor Special Olympics Volunteer Group to host event, raise awareness

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By Luke Araujo | Staff Writer

The Special Olympics Volunteer Group at Baylor is hosting “Spread the Word to End the Word,” an event that offers the opportunity to build relationships with Special Olympics Texas athletes. The event will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m Wednesday at the sand volleyball courts.

At the event, students get to meet members of the local Special Olympics team while enjoying food trucks, music and volleyball.

The group was founded a few years ago but was recently reformed after COVID-19 caused it to lose much of its membership. Now, the group aims to enrich the lives of people with special needs by working with the Special Olympics programs in the local Waco area and beyond.

Cedar Park junior Abigayle Hoeft, president of the Special Olympics Volunteer Group, said “Spread the Word to End the Word” is a worldwide movement that works to foster inclusion and end the use of the “R-word.”

“It is a derogatory term that was once used in medical jargon to diagnose individuals with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs),” Hoeft said. “It has now been taken out of medical jargon due to the negative connotation it has gained in everyday language. The whole campaign is about taking that word out of your vocabulary.”

The word, which is classified as a word of hate speech by the Special Olympics, was first introduced as the medical term “mental retardation” in 1961. However, as the term entered the public’s vocabulary, it gained a negative connotation and was changed from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” as part of “Rosa’s Law” in 2010.

Georgetown senior Paige Butler, membership chair of the organization, said the best way to ride the use of the “R-word” is to do so within local communities.

“On a global scale, there is not a great way to have a real effect on people you have no relation with,” Butler said. “But with people here at Baylor, you can resonate with each other. Since it is more localized, it is a lot easier to gain traction and have an impact.”

As a part of volunteering for the Special Olympics, the group aids the local Special Olympics team through coaching. The group also assists the team by helping set up tournaments and plan events.

To connect further with their team, the group started weekly Zoom meetings during the pandemic to stay in touch with athletes. The team enjoyed it so much that these meetings are continuing even as the pandemic is dying down.

Now, the Special Olympics Volunteer Group is hosting “Spread the Word to End the Word” to let students create their own relationships with this team.

“This event gives us an opportunity to draw people in so that we can advocate our message to them,” Hoeft said. “While we spread our message and put it up on our social media, we are only reaching a like-minded audience. So now, we can reach people at Baylor we have not reached before.”