Special Olympics Oregon announced June 18 that financial issues will prevent the organization from holding its annual Summer Games.
It was disheartening news to athletes and coordinators alike in the Special Olympics Oregon Union County chapter.
“(I’m) kind of shocked on one hand, but (we) realized it may happen,” said Doug Trice, co-coordinator for the Union County chapter. “(I’m) more disappointed for my athletes. You spend your time getting them to where they need to be. (Now) they don’t get to go anywhere, and they look forward to going.”
According to a report from the Portland Business Journal, “Special Olympics Oregon lost $325,000 on $4.5 million in revenue in 2016.” The Journal went on to say Special Olympics Oregon’s 2017 financial report has not been filed with the IRS.
“(The games are) suspended until they figure out where they are at financially,” Trice said.
The decision to suspend the Summer Games was made by Special Olympics Oregon after new CEO Britt Carlson Oase, who took over June 1, according to the Portland Business Journal, reviewed the organization’s financial status.
“The impact of this decision affects our entire Special Olympics Oregon family. However, suspending the 2018 Games was financially necessary to maintain local training and competitions while working to rebuild our events over time,” Oase said in a press release.
Despite the suspension, Oase said in the release Special Olympics Oregon’s “mission of providing training and competition opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities remains unchanged.”
The annual event, which had been held in Newberg but moved to Corvallis last year and was set to be there again in 2018, draws roughly 1,500 athletes. Roughly 24 of those athletes would have traveled over from Union County — 12 track athletes and 12 golfers.
The reaction Trice saw from the local athletes when he broke the bad news was not surprising.
“You could see the sad faces. Some were going to tear up,” he said.
Trice added that the athletes have many reasons to be disappointed that the two-day event was canceled.
In addition to the competition and camaraderie, the athletes get a chance to meet Oregon State football players and attend a dance, among other looked-forward-to activities.
“You work hard and you are looking forward to going down (and) getting some more awards,” Trice said.
Trice said he worked to ease his athletes’ concerns about the future of the Games.
“It was more reassuring to say, ‘When I know, I’ll let you know,’” he said.
To make sure the athletes’ preparations were not in vain, they were rewarded with a pizza party and an awards celebration to highlight their hard work in practice, Trice said.
“The coaches appreciate those guys and gals showing up,” he said.
What lies ahead for Special Olympics Oregon is uncertain. Per the Portland Business Journal, the organization is set to lose money again in 2018. Additionally, “the financial review undertaken by Oase and (Chief Financial Officer Lori) Van Dyke also found overstatements in amounts owed to Special Olympics Oregon.”
A report by The Oregonian/OregonLive also noted one of Special Olympics Oregon’s annual fundraisers, the Bite for Oregon, has also been canceled for 2018. Oase said in the press release the organization is working to add more fundraisers.
Funding cycles for nonprofits, though, are common, according to former Special Olympics Oregon CEO Margie Hunt.
“Special Olympics Oregon has certainly experienced such cycles over the 15 years I served as CEO,” Hunt was quoted as saying in the Portland Business Journal.
There is hope and even confidence among the board that Special Olympics Oregon will soon be back on solid financial footing.
“The board of directors is disappointed to see the full extent of the financial situation, but the board is confident under the leadership of Mrs. Oase and Mrs. Van Dyke, Special Olympics Oregon will regain its financial foundation and build for decades of future success,” Chairman Greg Hathaway said.