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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Special Olympics launches first ever Young Athlete programme in Riverside Special School, Antrim

Susan McCall (SO Ulster Staff), Olivia Lavery (Riverside Special School Principal), Dr Mark Browne (Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education), Riverside pupils, Mrs Barbara Black (Chair of Riverside School’s Board of Governors)and Angela Litter (Chairperson, Special Olympics Ulster).

Susan McCall (SO Ulster Staff), Olivia Lavery (Riverside Special School Principal), Dr Mark Browne (Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education), Riverside pupils, Mrs Barbara Black (Chair of Riverside School’s Board of Governors)and Angela Litter (Chairperson, Special Olympics Ulster).


Special Olympics Ulster has launched its Young Athlete programme for the first time ever within a school setting at Riverside Special School, Antrim.

Being the first Young Athlete programme to be embedded as a companion piece to the school’s existing PE lessons, Riverside’s 4-12 year old pupils will be introduced to the Special Olympics family and have the opportunity to take part in the Young Athlete programme every week.


The programme focuses on developing fundamental movement skills in young children aged 4-12, introducing them to sport through fun and play in a quasi-club experience, supported by school staff, in a familiar setting.


Conor Savage (SO Ulster Staff), Riverside pupil and staff member.

Conor Savage (SO Ulster Staff), Riverside pupil and staff member.


Riverside Special School will also encourage its older pupils to join the senior in-house Special Olympics Club, further developing their skills through sport-specific coaching which is tailored and adapted to meet the needs of the athletes.

Launching the programme this week, Riverside Special School was delighted to welcome representatives from the Department of Education, including Dr Mark Browne the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education, local political representatives and Glentoran women’s soccer star and Antrim local Emily Wilson.


Speaking at the launch of the new programme, Dr Mark Browne, Permanent Secretary for Education said:


“I am delighted to attend the launch of the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme at Riverside School today. I welcome the collaboration between our special schools and Special Olympics Ulster, which I know will afford these young children the opportunity to get active, learn new sports and importantly have fun.

“We are all aware of the importance of physical activity and the role it plays in our children’s development and learning, and in ensuring good emotional wellbeing. I would like to thank all those involved in the programme and look forward to hearing more about its success in the future.”



Riverside pupil and Emily Wilson, Glentoran footballer.

Riverside pupil and Emily Wilson, Glentoran footballer.


Special Olympics Ulster Regional Development Officer, Susan McCall added:


“Special Olympics has designed the Young Athletes programme to be flexible and adaptable to many different settings – not only in schools but also community clubs, services and at even at home support for athlete development.

“With additional special schools also having completed training and getting ready to launch their own Young Athletes and senior programmes, it’s wonderful to celebrate the development of this programme into different settings.”


Principal of Riverside School, Olivia Lavery, stated:


“The coaches for this programme are all teachers and learning support assistants at Riverside Special School who have completed an additional training course to support the roll out of the programme. We believe that Special Schools are uniquely positioned to introduce children with learning difficulties to sporting experiences and what will hopefully become lifelong involvement and participation in physical activity.

“We hope that Riverside School will also develop connections and links with local Special Olympics community clubs and thereby offer pathways for athletes to move into clubs, even when they have moved on from Riverside as young adults.”

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