SPRINGDALE—Conway Human Development Center resident Isaiah DuVall was the center's first in-house adolescent resident to compete in the Special Olympics.
The Arkansas Special Olympics winter games kicked off Friday in Springdale and continues through Saturday at the Jones Center.
Thirteen-year-old DuVall competed as part of CHDC's Patriots floor hockey team.
His mother, Shannon DuVall, said Isaiah's participation allows him to open up and experience opportunities with others.
"Seeing how much he enjoys [being on the team], it just makes him so happy ... that's what's most rewarding," she said while waiting for Isaiah to take to the court Friday morning. "We're so thankful he has this program."
Melissa Bryce, one of Isaiah's coaches, said Isaiah is one of few adolescent residents at CHDC but that he is the first in a transition to integrate younger residents into the Special Olympics program.
Shannon said being able to participate in team sports helps Isaiah with the daily struggles that come along with having autism, bipolar disorder and Adams-Oliver syndrome.
"Physically, he's very active, but he can't play on every team because of his disabilities," she said. "I'm glad he has a place to be a part of a team. That's really what he enjoys."
Getting the chance to travel and interact with others at a large-scale event is an opportunity Isaiah said he looks forward to, noting he was excited to take to the court Friday morning.
Being part of a team and staying active holds several benefits for each participant, Bryce said.
"This is what they love to do," she said. "While we are at CHDC we run a class everyday like you would go to work everyday. This is their thing. They love it."
The drive each athlete feels to continue learning and keep playing improves many of their abilities, she said.
"This program has stopped and corrected several behaviors because [these athletes] needed an outlet," Bryce said. "This program has provided an outlet where they can be athletic."
Eight CHDC residents traveled to Springdale over the weekend to participate in the winter games as the Arkansas Special Olympics celebrates its 50th anniversary.
The resident athletes participated in the floor hockey competition under the direction of Bryce and Coach Todd Garrett, who has worked with the Arkansas Special Olympics (SOAR) for 28 years. Bryce has participated with SOAR for 10 years.
CHDC Superintendent Sarah Murphy said the floor hockey competition is a favorite among CHDC athletes.
She said she was proud of CHDC's athletes and the drive they show through their participation in the program as well as the coaches that push them daily.
"I have to tell you as superintendent of CHDC, I am so grateful for the excellent Special Olympics coaches we have and the time and energy they put into this amazing program," Murphy said. "Our residents transform through this program to see themselves, as not only athletes, but as winners."
Bryce said each coach at CHDC fully backs the resident participants.
"This is not just our job ... we do it because we love what we do," she said.