Special Olympics volunteer Laura Spears-Vargas has been giving her athletes a chance to shine for 40 years.
“It allows me to see that they can do more than what others think they can do,” Spears-Vargas said.
She coaches athletes — age 8 and older — through the Haysville school district’s Special Olympics. She also teaches special education at Haysville Middle School.
Spears-Vargas, 61, said her passion for special education began in a psychology class at Emporia State University. She started out as a music major, but changed her mind after someone in class made an announcement about his search for volunteers in a Special Olympics bowling tournament.
More than 40 years later, she said she still keeps in contact with bowlers from the tournament.
“It hit me and it was something that just grabbed my heart,” she said.
At Haysville Middle School, Spears-Vargas coaches her athletes in the same sports as the school’s other programs, including volleyball, bowling, basketball, cheerleading, track, swimming and softball. She has even traveled with a few athletes to compete in international Special Olympic competitions across the country.
“I just believe in them,” Spears-Vargas said of her athletes. “We provide an equal level of competition.
“My reward is seeing their faces light up when they get it. Like, ‘I can do it. Yay me!’ ”