UPDATE: An organizing meeting for the QC Comets Special Olympics team has been scheduled. It will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, at the Barney Family Sports Complex, 22050 E. Queen Creek Road in Queen Creek. For more information, call Liz Johnson at 480-200-1074 or visit the QC Comets Special Olympics Team page on Facebook.
In 2012, Liz Johnson set off a series of events that would inspire the nation.
Her daughter, Chy, was born with a genetic birth defect that left her with the cognitive abilities of a third-grader. During her sophomore year at Queen Creek High School, she was bullied by some students there.
“She had trash thrown at her, was pushed in the hallways and called the ‘R’ word,” Mrs. Johnson said during a phone interview.
Desperate to help, Mrs. Johnson contacted Carson Jones, a QCHS varsity football player, on Facebook and asked if there was some way he could help Chy. Carson and his teammates took Chy under their wing and transformed the young girl’s life.
The feel-good story went viral, including a report on ESPN and a video on TYT Sports that has more than 100,000 views.
Now Mrs. Johnson is reaching out again, this time to the public, for help in making other special needs kids feel good.
On Feb. 28, she posted a message, again using Facebook, in a Queen Creek-based discussion group asking for volunteers to help start a Special Olympics team in Queen Creek.
“I know that once the kids graduate from high school there is not a community-based program in place for the Special Olympics. So if you are interested in signing up an athlete please feel free to send me a message. I will have this program up and running in time for our first events that will start in August. The two sports that will be offered first will be bowling and bocce ball,” she wrote in part.
And like her daughter’s football-playing friends, the community is eager to help.
“I’d like to volunteer!” wrote one person on Facebook. “I’m interested in learning more about what is required of the coach and partner roles” and “I have some clients that would be interested in this,” wrote others.
“I’ve talked to so many people. I am humbled by the outpouring of support for this,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Special Olympics helps individuals with intellectual disabilities in creating their own gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy, according to the Special Olympics Arizona website: www.specialolympicsarizona.org. Sports training enhances focus and gives participants a structure for learning important lessons about perseverance, endurance and setting goals, according to the site.
Mrs. Johnson said she has spoken to Paul Reynolds, vice principal and athletics director at the high school, about using the school’s track for a Special Olympics event next year.
Officials from the Queen Creek Unified School District are looking into the matter, Stephanie Ingersoll, spokeswoman for the school district, confirmed in an e-mailed response to questions.
“Paul and his team are still working out the details,” Ms. Ingersoll said.
Mr. Reynolds said he supports Mrs. Johnson’s efforts.
“The Johnson family has been a big part of Queen Creek High School,” Mr. Reynolds said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Chy Johnson has helped motivate and inspire our athletes. We are excited that the Johnson family will be bringing the Special Olympics to Queen Creek. I look forward to watching these athletes compete.”
Mrs. Johnson said she has been “kicking around the idea” of creating a Special Olympics team for about five years, since Chy was in high school.
Coaching a bowling outing for her daughter and other intellectually disabled kids last year helped cement her determination to move forward with her mission.
Mrs. Johnson said she is committed to making the Special Olympics team, which she calls the QC Comets, a reality in Queen Creek.
“All I can do is fail or succeed,” she said.
She is working to be certified to organize a Special Olympics team, something she is able to do online, she said.
In addition, she is looking for volunteer coaches and partners. She said she also needs a room in which she can meet with all the interested parties, including athletes, their parents, volunteers and coaches.
Volunteers do not need experience with Special Olympics, but for certain positions, such as coaches, it helps, Mrs. Johnson said.
“Previous involvement would be nice. They don’t have to have any training, but I will be interviewing because it takes certain skills to work with intellectually disabled athletes,” she said.
She also needs athletes of all skill levels – some to compete and others to coach.
Mrs. Johnson is asking that athletes contact her before the season starts so everyone can get their physicals done and turned in in time for the August games.
People who would like to volunteer, sign up as an athlete or want more information can call Mrs. Johnson at 480-200-1074 or visit the QC Comets Special Olympics Team page on Facebook.
Mrs. Johnson said everyone, including herself, will volunteer their time for this effort.
“The reward is at the end of the day when you get hugs and smiles,” she said.