Newport High School will represent the State of Oregon at the Special Olympics USA Games in June. Students Lillibelle and Annabeth Bassingthwaite (left) are part of the Youth Leadership Experience with NHS teacher Jill Sellers (right) and Harley Lyberis (middle) is on the athletic team. The group will fly out of Hillsboro with the support of Peyton Manning and the Special Olympics Airlift. (Courtesy photo)

Next month, 40 delegates of Team Oregon Special Olympics including athletes, unified partners, coaches, Unified Champion Schools youth leaders and staff head to Orlando, Fla. to compete in the 2022 USA Games. And four of those delegates are representing Lincoln County.

Cindy Miguel, the Director of Program and Volunteer Services for Special Olympics Oregon, said the local delegation consists of one traditional athlete, a Youth Leadership Experience representative, and Unified Partner and a mentor.

Harley Lyberis of Toledo is the athlete competing in events this year. He will compete in track and field running the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as the 1,600-meter relay. Since the COVID pandemic disrupted the 2020 and 2021 games, qualifying times for all athletes were taken from 2019. Since then, Harley has not exactly kept himself in Olympic shape. “He was surprised — he has grown a lot,” said Jill Sellers, Newport High School special education teacher and Unified Champion School liaison and coach. Sellers is also a delegate who will attend the USA Games as a mentor.

Though Harley is 20, he is in the transition program through special education that allows him to continue his education until he is 21, which makes him qualified to participate. “I talked to the P.E. teacher and strength trainer and asked, ‘How would you like to train an Olympic athlete? They both jumped at the opportunity,” said Sellers. 

As part of Oregon’s USA Games delegation, Annabeth Bassingthwaite of Toledo will participate in the Youth Leadership Experience as a non-traditional athlete. She has enjoyed competing as an athlete in track and field, bowling, and basketball. “The travel and competition with others has been life-changing for her,” said Miguel. 

This year, Annabeth will be in a supporting role, conducting interviews with other athletes and running a social media campaign on the USA Games app. “Annabeth was recognized as student of the month — she had set a goal that she wanted to be a leader. That is what it is all about,” said Miguel.

Sellers said Annabeth has been practicing a lot. “Her language skills have grown and she has grown in confidence. It’s just so much fun to watch.” Sellers said Harley’s confidence has also grown. “He is shy, but knows it is important to participate in interviews. It's so awesome to see."

Annabeth’s sister, Lillibelle Bassingthwaite will join her sister as a Unified Partner delegate. Lillibelle has been involved in the organization, serving as a Youth Volunteer and UCS Leadership Chair at Newport High School, for two years. Drawing inspiration from her sister, she has been grateful for the chance to be part of the experience and has learned and grown while supporting her sister. 

A Unified Partner is a student without an intellectual disability, who actively participates with the athletes in a fun and meaningful way for training and competition. In competitive team sports, Unified Partners should match as closely as possible to the Special Olympics athlete's age and ability.

“It's really neat taking two sisters,” said Sellers. “Lillibelle is a huge support to Annabeth. They will make lifetime memories together. And with Harley, who is also part of the group.”

Adding to the excitement of competing in the Olympics and going to Disney World, the Lincoln County delegates have an extra exciting privilege. The team was selected to travel to the games on a private jet. “Private owners or companies from all over the country donate their jets for them,” explained Miguel. "When they take off and land, there will be media fanfare, just like a celebrity. We are so thrilled for them. It’ll be quite the experience.”

Miguel said the organization is grateful to each person who donated and volunteered to help the athletes continue doing what they love, but the organization could still use some help. Miguel said to cover the costs of sending the athletes to the USA Games, they needed to raise $50,000. She hoped the team would be able to raise $20,000 with the remainder of the monies coming from corporate sponsors. So far, they have had zero major sponsors. “We are at $31,000 just from delegates and individual athletes,” said Miguel. “People can sponsor or donate to Team Oregon. It's such a unique opportunity and a good thing to spend your money on … really, there is no better good.”

Anyone interested in donating can do so at support.soor.org/campaign/team-oregon/c375662.

The 2022 Special Olympics USA Games will be held June 5 to 12. More than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean will attend. 

“This is quite a life changer for our athletes and unified partners,” said Miguel. “They are really seen and heard and feel valued. They are really making a difference.” 

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