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CCS Special Olympics Tees Off with New Golf Program

boy swinging golf club

November 29, 2023 — The Special Olympics program within Columbus City Schools (CCS) has partnered with TopGolf Columbus to provide students with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn a new sport. 

Special Olympics offers sports training and athletic competition for all students and adults with intellectual disabilities.

“Special Olympics gives students opportunities to develop skills and physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in friendly competition across the District,” said John Esson, Special Olympics coordinator.

The program has established strong basketball and track and field competitions among participating athletes. Since joining the District, Esson has expanded the opportunities for athletes by adding flag football, soccer, and now golf. girl swinging golf club

“[Special Olympics] gives students more opportunities than they had in the past,” said Allison Eckert, intervention specialist at Centennial High School. “[Golf] is a great addition to what Special Olympics is already doing for Columbus City Schools students.”

When Eckert learned students would get the chance to test their skills at the putting green, Eckert took immediate action. With borrowed equipment from the school’s golf team, she led her students to the practice soccer field. Together, they learned how to hold a golf club, how to properly swing and hit a golf ball, and the differences between putting and pitching wedges.

Golf isn’t always a popular sport among students, and Eckert initially worried the students wouldn’t be interested. However, after several practices, she was pleased to see the students connecting with the sport.

“I didn’t think they would like it,” said Eckert. “They were crushing the ball and laughing. They fell in love with it. It gives me goosebumps to look back and think about.”

After working to grasp the basics, Eckert’s students were ready to take the skills they learned at school and apply them in the real world. Throughout November, students from across the District tested their skills at TopGolf. 

The students learned crucial life skills even if they didn’t par their holes. 

“Golf helps build their confidence,” said Eckert. “Even if they didn’t hit the ball well, at least they hit the ball. They put themselves out there in front of their peers, encouraging them to try new things.”

Eckert is an advocate for students identified as having an emotional disturbance. It’s why she’s continued to return to the school for the past 20 years. 

“I fell in love with the kids here in CCS,” said Eckert, “And I fell in love with the [Special Olympics] program. It made me want to keep coming back to school.”

Eckert hopes participating in Special Olympics will teach her students how to advocate for themselves because they’ve witnessed their teachers advocate for them.

“What gets me excited is the opportunity being given,” said Eckert. “It’s about having a sport every season for these students to get them involved in just like their typical peers.” 

Before launching the event, the venue only allowed two bays worth of golfers, equaling up to 12 golfers at a time. After sharing the scope of the program, TopGolf graciously offered enough bays to accommodate the needs of the students and adjusted seating options for their safety.

“This is a huge success for CCS and TopGolf,” said Eckert. “This partnership brings awareness to our students and their abilities besides their disabilities. This partnership has taught me that there is more acceptance out there for people with disabilities."