Press-Republican

March 12, 2013

Special Olympics head ref inspired by competitors

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — PAUL SMITHS — Paul Smith’s College Athletic Director Jim Tucker has gained an international reputation as head referee for the Special Olympics.

Born and raised on the well-known Tucker’s Farm in Gabriels, where potatoes are grown, his affiliation with the World Winter Special Olympics began close to home.

But it has taken him the world over.

He recently returned from a week-long post as head referee for the World Winter Special Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

STUDENT VOLUNTEERS

The games were held at a location about 2,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains.

“As officials, we stayed at Dragon Valley Hotel, directly at the base of YongPyong Ski Resort,” Tucker said.

This was his second round as head ref for Special Olympics competition; the first was in 2009 at McCall, Idaho.

His affiliation with the organization and winter sport goes back more than 15 years.

“I brought the Winter Special Olympics to Paul Smith’s College in 1997 (with events in snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and floor hockey), and I usually get somewhere between 30 and 50 Paul Smith’s student volunteers.

“I believe it is really important for our young — and not so young — people to give back.”

BARRIERS REMOVED

Special Olympics is geared specifically for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities; the competitors, Tucker said, have inspired him to increase his involvement.

“Working with so many athletes from various parts of the world — all with different ideologies, religious and political backgrounds — all of these barriers seem to be removed with the World Winter Special Olympic athletes.”

Officiating in Idaho, he lived at the same resort as the snowshoe athletes.

“We were able to eat breakfast and dinner with the athletes and coaches. After dinner, DJs from the local area would provide music and dancing at the resort.”

The athletes had a great time, uncomplicated by politics or encumbered by national pride or prejudice.

“It didn’t seem to matter who they were dancing with — it was all for fun, Tucker said.

Athletes might be wearing their national T-shirts or jerseys, which, for those caught up in world affairs, might be enough to result in avoidance in such a casual atmosphere.

“But these athletes danced together,” he said.

“The same could be seen at the closing ceremony in Boise at the 2009 (Winter Games). Two nations might be at war or maybe not on friendly terms, but among these athletes — dancing and having a good time — being in the moment was the most important thing.”

‘BEAUTIFUL TO WITNESS’

In PyeongChang, referees lived separate from the athletes.

“The athletes competed at their top end, giving their all during the race. As they came down the home stretch, in front of the South Korean army bands playing numerous drums, they would run in cadence with the drum beat,” Tucker said.

“Some athletes would pump the sky with their arm to the beat of the drums. Some could envision that the drums were for them and their performance — it didn’t seem to matter if they were from France, Italy or China. Some of the athletes in mid-race were dancing as they headed toward the finish line.

“Beautiful to witness, and I kept grinning like a little kid, watching their joy in the midst of their race.”

Tucker said he brings home the richness of multi-cultural exposure, especially the unique experience of being a referee in South Korea.

“Any time I depart the North Country, the exposures to people from other cultures, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds and experiences, I try to bring this back to the campus.”

UPDATING RULES

More than 60 nations represented snowshoeing in the World Winter Special Olympics in PyeongChang, with 320-plus athletes participating.

Tucker is helping these international sporting events evolve.

He went to Seoul, South Korea, in November 2011 to help update the snowshoe-event rules with Special Olympics Technical Delegate Tom Sobal from Colorado, Silvester Polc of Slovenia and Chrisa Karra from Greece.

They are looking to expand international Special Olympic snowshoe race competition.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com