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Special Olympics South Carolina

On a typical Saturday morning, scores of Lake Murray residents can be found playing tennis. The same can be said of Nettie Howerin and her group of athletes. For more than 11 years, Nettie and company have gathered to play tennis at the Richland County Tennis Center each Saturday at 9 a.m. The key distinction is that Nettie is a volunteer coach and her athletes play tennis through Special Olympics South Carolina. 

The mission of Special Olympics South Carolina is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Any person with an intellectual disability is eligible to participate in the various programs offered by Special Olympics South Carolina. Children can start as early as age 2 in the Young Athletes program. At the age of 8, children are able to participate in team or individual sports seasons. After training for a minimum of eight weeks, athletes can qualify to participate in local and state competitions. Special Olympics South Carolina hosts more than 500 competitions each year.

Most athletes in Nettie’s group have been playing tennis for years. However, tennis is not their only sport. Take our cover girl, Ashley Workman, for example. She loves tennis, but swimming is also one of her favorite activities. With Special Olympic South Carolina, athletes have the opportunity to participate in 27 different sports, including alpine skiing, aquatics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cheerleading, disc golf, equestrian, flag football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, paddleboarding, powerlifting, soccer, sailing, snowboarding, softball, track and field, table tennis, and volleyball.

With 27 sports serving more than 30,700 athletes, it’s easy to see why South Carolina boasts the 6th largest Special Olympics program in the nation. Led by President & CEO Barry S. Coats, the Special Olympics South Carolina staff coordinates programs in sixteen (16) distinct areas throughout the state. Coats explains,The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people.”

Volunteers are vital to delivering the Special Olympics’ mission. Nettie Howerin is just one of more than 2000 coaches in South Carolina working with athletes. She is quick to note, “Being a coach can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime – both for you and your athletes.”  Special Olympics South Carolina provides extensive training to sure that each coach is prepared for success. Prior coaching experience is not necessary. However, coaches must be at least 18 years of age. For those between the ages of 14-17, Special Olympics offers training for the role of Junior Coach.

In addition to individual sports, Special Olympics South Carolina also offers a Unified Sports Program Team sports are about having fun, promoting physical health, and bringing people together. Special Olympics Unified Sports teams do all of that – and shatter stereotypes about intellectual disability in the process. This program combines equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes with athletes without intellectual disabilities (also known as Unified Partners) on sports teams for training and competition.  This program has proven successful on and off of the field. It brings inclusion to Special Olympics athletes and expanded friendships far beyond sports.  In South Carolina, the Unified Sports program includes badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cheerleading, disc golf, flag football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, sailing, soccer, swimming, softball, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. To become a Unified Partner, simply register as a Class A volunteer with your area Special Olympics program office.

Everyone deserves a chance at a happy and purposeful life. Yet people with intellectual disabilities face doubt, barriers, and low expectations. For many, Special Olympics is the only place where they find an opportunity to participate in their communities, develop belief in themselves, and feel like champions. Truly, through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills, and success. Ultimately, these athletes find joy, confidence, and fulfillment—on the playing field and in life.

Since 1968, Special Olympics South Carolina has been a true inspiration to our community. To register an athlete, volunteer for an event, become a coach or donate to this worthy cause, please call 803.772.1555 or find details on their website at