Special needs swimming program helps team gain perspective

by Lara GillespieStaff Writer

During the spring semester, physical education students and men’s basketball players gather once a week in the pool at Cowles Fieldhouse to swim with special needs kids. Organized by Bruce Wilson, assistant professor of physical education and men’s head basketball coach, the program is offered for kids to get in the pool and to create relationships with Simpson students.

The special needs kids come swim every Thursday for six consecutive weeks, beginning the last week of January and going through February. Three half-hour sections are offered between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Around 30 to 40 kids, anywhere from 2 to 18 years old, come to each section from surrounding school districts that include Carlyle, Indianola, Martensdale, Norwalk, Southeast Warren and Winterset.

“The whole idea of the class is to give the kids a positive experience in the swimming pool,” Wilson said. “For some kids it may be the only time during the year they actually get into a pool.”

This is the sixteenth year Wilson has run the program. His physical education Student/Special Needs class works with the kids for hands-on experience, and the men’s basketball team comes in to help out since Simpson students work one-on-one or in groups of two or three with the kids.

Once in the pool, activities vary depending on the skill level. Special needs kids might work on water orientation, blowing bubbles, getting in and out of the pool, moving arms and legs, basic swimming skills, getting rings, relay races or water volleyball.

“The main goal is to get them into the water and exercise without realizing they’re exercising,” junior Carlye Owens, part of the physical education class, said.

Wilson believes working with the special needs kids shows the students and athletes how vital they are in making a difference in their communities.

“I think that all of us learn how important we are to our community, that there are a lot of programs that really rely on volunteers to be successful, and that’s very true of this program,” Wilson said. “We need to have a lot of people willing to volunteer their time to help others in their community, and what a great thing if you can make a difference in your community.”

Besides having fun, exercising and impacting the community, there are many benefits for everyone involved in the program.

The special needs kids are able to build relationships with the Simpson students, growing close to them and opening up since they try to work with the same students each week. Working with the Simpson students provides the kids with role models while they have fun improving their swimming. The program also gives the kids something to look forward to all year round.

Owens believes working with the kids will be useful once she graduates.

“When I become a P.E. teacher I’ll be able to use this to my advantage and say I’ve done things with special needs and different abilities,” Owens said. “It can involve a lot of people and it’s something you can incorporate together.”

For the basketball team, Wilson believes coming in and working with the kids helps the team have fun, build self-esteem and also offers some water therapy for sore bodies.

Senior guard Brennen Tubaugh enjoys seeing the improvement in the kids over the weeks and also the relationships that develop. He also thinks helping with the kids puts things into perspective.

“Working with kids with disabilities makes you realize that even though you may not have played your best game you still can get out and do stuff,” Tubaugh said. “They’re happy all the time and there is no reason you can’t be too.”

Wilson also thinks working with the kids makes the athletes more appreciative.

“Sometimes as a competitive team, things don’t go very well or you have adversity, and I think sometimes we get this ‘woe-is-me’ type of philosophy,” Wilson said. “I think we have to understand we have it pretty darn good and that we’re really blessed and we should enjoy that and be thankful for the blessings we have.”