Thursday, July 26, 2007

H.R. 380

Though often disappointed, I refrain from commenting on the legislative activities in the office of Representative Bill Sali. He doesn't represent my district, so airing my grievances to him directly would more than likely result in very little. However, this week something he and the rest of the Idaho delegation have participated in has left me completely annoyed.

Take H.R. 380 (110th Congress, House Resolution 380)--a bill attempting to commend Idaho for winning the bid to host the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games--which for all intents and purposes appears to be a decent, kind, and thoughtful bill. Enter Bill Sali and the Idaho delegation and it becomes just another attempt (by all appearances) to draw a substantial crowd that may ultimately do wonders for the Idaho economy.

Great. I understand the need for economic growth, I understand the tourism industry, I understand what outsiders bring to the state. What I don't understand is this: Where was the Idaho delegation when the Idaho Special Olympics organization was barely staying afloat?

Some of you in southeastern Idaho may remember when the state summer games were held every year in Pocatello. Idaho State University offered a superb venue for the summer sports (basketball, cycling, swimming, track & field, powerlifting, etc.) competitions and the community was welcoming of the activities, with hundreds of volunteers turning up the first week of June every year.

With each year it became more apparent that the Idaho Special Olympics State Summer Games were receiving less support, volunteers were still showing up in droves, but the funding just wasn't there. State officials stopped coming (the last state official to attend was Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and that was probably four summers ago) and the community seemed to forget what was taking place here in Pocatello. The athletes were no longer put up in hotels, the dorms at ISU became the location for all lodging and dining, local teams (within a 60+ mile radius) were told to drive to the event, but no lodging would be provided, and the venue for the state games slowly collapsed.

In addition to what was happening in Pocatello, the Boise administration of the state Special Olympics organization lost revenue and had many failed fundraising events. Just as quickly as it fell apart, the Boise big-wigs admitted defeat and pulled the state games out of Pocatello. Not only did they pull the games out of Pocatello, they created a new competition system that consisted of regional competitions, a new distribution of sports for each of the three seasonal games (Fall, Winter, and Summer), and the cost of uniforms, equipment, lodging, and transportation fell on the shoulders of the individual teams, athletes (and their families), and the coaches.

While all of this was happening, never did a single member of the Idaho delegation express any concern with the way things were proceeding. Never did a single member of the Idaho delegation step up and assist in an overhaul of the fundraising system.

Then came the announcement that Idaho had made the shortlist of venues for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. Everyone, including all four members of the Idaho delegation, got very excited at the prospect of a multisport event taking place here in our state. All the possibilities of such a large event danced in the heads of the Idaho delegation like sugar-plums on the night before Christmas. Idaho business leaders praised the city of Boise and the Idaho Games Organizing Committee for opening the door to such an economically promising event. Finally, the announcement came that the World Games would in fact take place here in our backyard (and why not with such wonderful ski resorts?) and people who had never been interested in Special Olympics before were suddenly intrigued by this upcoming event.

In May, Congressman Bill Sali introduced in the House a resolution to commend all those who had worked tediously to ensure that Idaho secured the bid and would indeed host the 2009 games. On July 22nd, Sali's legislation won the approval of the House and was then carried to the Senate by Senators Craig and Crapo.

Don't get me wrong, it is a wonderful honor to host a world event. It is a wonderful event both to the state and to those involved with Special Olympics. As a former coach and life-long supporter of Special Olympics, I am thrilled with the idea of having the world games in my home state, but it bothers me immensely that we can so easily turn our backs to the problems in the local/state organization and then welcome with open arms the world organization because of the economic benefits the event will bring.

Shame on the Idaho delgation for ignoring an ongoing problem with a wonderful organization in this state while welcoming the larger, world version of that very organziation when the prospect of serious dollars appears.

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