Special Olympics' Winter Games returning to Bee Cave, Lakeway

More than a thousand athletes from across the state are preparing to again converge on the Lake Travis area to take part in the Special Olympics of Texas' Winter Games.

The event will run from Feb. 17-19 and feature competitions in powerlifting, volleyball, cycling, golf and floorball. The games will be spread out between indoor and outdoor facilities in Bee Cave and Lakeway. Members of the community can attend as spectators or sign up to volunteer by visiting sotx.org/winter-games-volunteer.

Chad Eason, the Special Olympics of Texas' senior director of competition and games, said the event is expected to draw 1,100 athletes, 400 coaches and volunteers, and 2,500 spectators.

The first day of the Winter Games on Friday, Feb. 17, will consist of registration and dividing athletes from across the state into divisions in some sports, and will take place from 2 to 8:30 p.m. at the HCI Sports & Fitness facility in Bee Cave and at Bee Cave Middle School.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, the competition begins with power lifting, floorball and cycling taking place at Bee Cave Middle School from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while volleyball will be at HCI Sports. The golf tournament will be at Lions Municipal Golf Course in West Austin.

Bee Cave Middle School also will host FUNdamental sports on Saturday for athletes to work on their motor skills and to help prepare them to eventually compete in the Special Olympics.

After the sporting events, dinner will be served at Star Hill Ranch in Bee Cave from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a ceremony and victory dance from 7 to 9 p.m.

"Pitch Perfect" singer-actress Kelley Jakle is expected to make a guest appearance at the opening ceremony on Saturday, while WWE stars Mark “The Undertaker” and Michelle Calaway are scheduled to emcee the event.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, volleyball will close out the competition from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at HCI Sports. A complete listing of the schedule can be found at sotx.org/winter-games-schedule.

Athletes playing at this year’s state games can advance to national and regionals based on their eligibility, non-athletic considerations and performance.

Marie Lowman, a former Bee Cave City Council member and mother to a Special Olympics athlete, spearheaded the initiative to bring the Winter Games to the Lake Travis area for the second time. For the 2022 games, Special Olympics Texas requested $100,000 each from Lakeway and Bee Cave in hotel occupancy tax revenue. This year, the group will be receiving a total of $400,000 from the cities. The majority of the money will be allocated to housing and transportation of the athletes.

The event was presented to Bee Cave and Lakeway city councils by Eason and Lowman as an opportunity to host an event for the community during an otherwise low-grossing week and to bring in “beds and heads” by filling up hotel rooms.

Last year, Bee Cave Mayor Kara King voiced her concern about Special Olympics' request for $200,000 from both cities despite their differences in size and respective budgets.

“A lot of the hotels are in Lakeway, a lot of the sport competition venues are in Bee Cave,” Eason said. “It's pretty much an even split financially. … It's just the funds go to different aspects and venues, pieces of the competition.”

The Special Olympics of Texas Winter Games in the Lake Travis area will feature floorball, shown here, as well as volleyball, powerlifting, golf and cycling.
The Special Olympics of Texas Winter Games in the Lake Travis area will feature floorball, shown here, as well as volleyball, powerlifting, golf and cycling.

Eason said that last year, the Hill Country Galleria had its highest-grossing sales for the month of February and finds the members and participants of Special Olympics Texas to be the reason why. Eason estimates spending of approximately $200 per hotel room for the athletes and an increase in spending in the Lake Travis area in what will be the second post-COVID Winter Games.

Along with boosting the area’s economy, Lowman said she is glad the Winter Games are back in the area due to the care they are able to provide to athletes.

“(What) a lot of people don't realize is that Special Olympics is the largest health care provider for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Lowman said. “These athletes, when they come and attend the state games, they're getting their well checks done: their hearing checks, their eye checks, their heart checks. … And without that, a lot of these athletes may not see a health care provider at all and it's all offered free of charge.”

The health care checks are done in partnership with Branchly, an organization that connects volunteer clinicians with athletes.

To donate to Special Olympics Texas, visit support.specialolympics.org.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Special Olympics' Winter Games returning to Bee Cave, Lakeway on Feb. 17-19