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Providing access for the people we support and members of the community to Special Olympics NY and Springbrook Scorpion athletics has been a fundamental part of our mission for more than a decade. We offer an athletics inclusive sports program that focuses on skill-based sporting achievements and traditional sports teams. We spoke with the adaptive physical education teacher at the School at Springbrook, Jonathan Philby, to talk about his experience with Springbrook athletics and Special Olympics NY. Jon is the co-coordinator for the Special Olympic program at Springbrook and has been a member of the School at Springbrook for nine years.

Springbrook:

What do you love about your job?

Jon Philby:

I like the fact that every day is different, even though you may plan and approach each day the same way. I also like working with students on specific skills and working with them over time. It could be a month or two down the road, but when a skill finally clicks for the person, and all of a sudden, they can do it—it’s rewarding. There is nothing else like it!

Springbrook:

How long have you been a part of Springbrook’s Athletics program?

Jon Philby:

When I started at Springbrook, I wanted to get involved in athletics. I had been coaching for years since I was a junior in college. And I’d been active in high school athletics as well as the community teams I’d played on. I started March of 2012 just after my basketball season ended. (I was coaching at Milford when I started here). As soon as the season ended, I came and talked to Nicole Valentine-Sokolowski, and she introduced me to the Special Olympics program, and I’ve been a big part of the program ever since.

What’s nice about the Special Olympics program is that it has levels. You can find a place on a team for any athlete which I enjoy. If an athlete is developing their ability, you can find a place for them in the skills program. If their skill base is strong, you can put them on an athletic team where they focus on the game with other teammates, learning plays, or competing for longer distances or faster speeds. Different events require a little more skill development. Being all-inclusive is the main goal—making sure everyone gets an opportunity to participate.

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Jon Philby in 2012

Springbrook:

Tell us about your experiences with the Special Olympics NY.

Jon Philby:

I work with Special Olympics NY a couple of times a year to coordinate dates for local events and to also to schedule our local events. Special Olympics NY makes sure that our events are on the calendar, so all of NYS knows that there is an opportunity in Oneonta if they want to participate. We are centrally located between the Binghamton, Ithaca, and Albany area, so we have athletes and teams who can come to Oneonta without having to drive extremely far distances. Overall, it has been a positive experience.  The people who work at Special Olympics NY are very helpful, and if I have questions, they are always willing to help.

Springbrook:

Tell us about all of Springbrook’s Special Olympic teams.

Jon Philby:

We offer four different programs at Springbrook. We have our Springbrook Sprouts program, which is our program for 2 to 7-year-olds. It’s an all-inclusive program. So the athlete doesn’t have to have special needs to participate in the program. We’ve had that program since fall 2018. Nicole Valentine-Sokolowski, the other coordinator, pretty much runs that in its entirety. We also have our largest program, our basketball program, which is a skills team, and two competitive teams. As I said, skills teams work on more individual skills, and the competitive teams play more five on five type of traditional basketball. All athletes have special needs. We also have our track and soccer programs. We have two dozen or more athletes on each team, and we’ve been steadily growing.

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Jon and Brayden at the 2019 Scorpions Track Invitational

Springbrook:

Do you think any more possibilities of opening more?

Jon Philby:

Bowling would be great. We have talked about possibly doing a winter sport, which is something we don’t currently have—possibly snowshoeing because we have all the equipment for it in our physical education department. Another program that would be fun is floor hockey, but we don’t have any of the equipment for that, which would make it very costly to start up. The program that Nicole and I are looking at right now is the MATP program (motor activity training program). The Special Olympics program is great, and all the programs they offer are great, but there are a certain group of people for whom it does not work. Those athletes use adaptive equipment like wheelchairs. This program would allow many to work on a specific skill. A student would compete on a competition day in front of the entire school, almost like a field day, and they get the opportunity to showcase their skill. If they can demonstrate that they improved their skill, they get a medal for that day. If they remained consistent, they still get a ribbon because they participated. It’s an opportunity for people to showcase their abilities and skills when their abilities don’t fit into what the Special Olympics needed. I’m hoping to begin the MATP program in the spring of 2021.

Springbrook:

Has working at Springbrook changed your perspective of sports?

Jon Philby:

Yes, it did! I was always a highly competitive athlete. I enjoyed winning, and the raw competition of the event and the whole team bonding experience was always great. We have the team bonding experience with Springbrook’s athletics program. Sometimes I think I see more of a bonding experience with the Special Olympics than I’ve seen when I played high school sports or the recreational sports I play in now. It’s a different atmosphere because I think athletes, in general, are gifted with skills or talent. They’re gifted somehow to be good at something, and they grow and develop that talent through hard work and dedication. When you’re given an opportunity to overcome obstacles and get the opportunity to compete and get a medal or a ribbon, or some praise for trying a new skill, it’s great. I had an athlete that when she first started here, I don’t think she could hit the basketball rim when she was right underneath it. Now she’s shooting foul shots and making them, and she even scored 4 or 5 baskets last year at our Springbrook basketball tournament. I was so proud of her, and I saw her parents, and sisters screaming and cheering for her. It was a blast. Seeing her continuously improve her skill and sticking with it, never giving up, made the victory of four baskets over two games so much more rewarding.

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Jon coaching at the 2018 Scorpions Track Invitational

Springbrook:

How does Springbrook support the teams?

Jon Philby:

Springbrook athletics is strictly 100 percent funded by generous donations. We go out and ask people for donations, and we have the Springbrook Foundation to help us out with fundraising. Just like the Special Olympics—the athletes do not have to pay anything to compete. It’s all supported through donations, so please consider supporting Springbrook athletics.

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Jon cheers on athletes before the 2019 NY State Summer Games

Springbrook:

Are you excited for the upcoming Basketball Tournament? How many teams do you think are going to be there?

Jon Philby:

I’m always excited about the tournament, and I’m always a little nervous about it too. There’s always a lot of work involved to make sure it’s well organized, and that everyone has a great time. I’m always excited about it, though, and I’m expecting to have a great turnout again like last year. Our skills competition usually has 20 to 40 athletes, and we have plenty of basketball games. I can see us hitting those numbers again and having another amazing tournament. If anyone with referee experience is interested in volunteering for the tournament, please let me know.

I always tell people, when it comes to Special Olympics, you have to go to an event, and you’ll be hooked. You’ll see meaningful relationships being built. You’ll see opportunity being given. You’ll see dreams being made and goals being met. I have parents that tell me that they do not believe their child can participate in athletics, and I respond that they can, and I will find a way to get them to participate in a sport and have an amazing time doing so.

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Scorpions Varsity Basketball players during the 2019 Springbrook Invitational

We want to give Jon a special thanks for taking the time to share his thoughts and experiences. For more information about Springbrook Scorpions Athletics and to stay up to date with Springbrook sporting events, please visit our Athletics page.

Make this YOUR Springbrook Moment

Springbrook Scorpions Athletics is funded through donations made to the Springbrook Foundation. If you would like to support Springbrook Athletics, or become the person who brings winter sports to Scorpions Athletics, please consider donating by clicking the button below. Your gift will help create meaningful moments for the dozens of athletes who are proud to be Scorpions!

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