Association Guest Column: U.S. Paralympics
By Marvin Olberding
Athletes and facilities that offer disability sports programming will now have a much easier time getting hooked up, thanks to a new hub.
U.S. Paralympics, in cooperation with the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), is unveiling its new events and organizations database during the National Disability Sports Conference (NDSC) this month in Athens, Ga.
The U.S. Paralympics Organizations and Events Database, which is hosted by UCO and can be accessed at http://paralympics.ucok.edu/, will allow athletes with physical disabilities to find information about camps, clinics and competitions both in their area and around the country. For those looking to become involved in disabled sport, the database can identify organizations based on location, range of service (from local groups to national organizations) and Paralympic competition groups served.
Athletes will be able to search for events by sport, location, disability type, host organization and ability level. This information will allow athletes to find the competitive or learning environment that best suits them.
Organizations that promote sport for people with physical disabilities are encouraged to apply to become a part of the database. U.S. Paralympics will review the application, and if it is approved, the organization will be allowed to enter background and contact information into the database, as well as listings of activities and events it is hosting.
The database will be the first of its kind in the United States because it will allow Paralympic sport organizations from across the country to distribute event information in one central location to a nationwide audience. At the same time, physically disabled athletes who are looking for places to compete or learn a new sport can come to one site and find a number of options without having to check several different outlets.
"Right now, there are pockets of information about Paralympic sports and events on various Web sites and in various publications," says Joe Walsh, managing director of U.S. Paralympics. "The goal of this site is to collect all of that information so that it's easily accessible to anyone in the U.S. who is looking for a Paralympic sport event or organization that runs Paralympic programs."
By having multiple organizations posting event information on the same site, it will allow for cooperation that will benefit both the organizations and the athletes.
"The events function of the database will allow organizations to coordinate events and activities in a way that will maximize attendance at the events and minimize conflicts for athletes," Walsh says.
The creation of the database is representative of an effort being made by U.S. Paralympics, with the help of its partner organizations, to reach out to physically disabled athletes on a grassroots level.
The concept of the site was developed at a meeting hosted by U.S. Paralympics in August 2004 and attended by members from 20 disabled-sport organizations from around the country. The group unanimously decided that a central information hub needed to be created.
The University of Central Oklahoma was selected as a U.S. Olympic Committee Community Partner in December 2005, when it also was announced that UCO had been named as an official USOC Paralympic training site. In 2005, UCO also was designated as the official training site for the U.S. Men's Sitting Volleyball Team for the 2005-2008 quadrennium.
For the past six years, UCO has hosted the Endeavor Games, a multiple-sport competition for athletes with physical disabilities. In 2005, the event featured more than 300 athletes from 28 states and three countries.
The fifth annual National Disability Sports Conference is being hosted by Blaze Sports, which is headquartered in Atlanta. The main focus for this year's NDSC will be the use of sport in the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. For more information on the NDSC, visit www.blazesports.com.
Formed in 2001, U.S. Paralympics is actually a division of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) created to increase support for Paralympic sport in the United States. The division coordinates the preparation and selection of athletes to U.S. Paralympic Teams, both summer and winter, in conjunction with pertinent National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and other partner organizations. U.S. Paralympics also works with national and locally focused sport organizations that offer Paralympic programs to children and other developing athletes. Through these efforts, it promotes Olympic ideals throughout the American population, especially among those Americans who have physical disabilities.