Six District residents this week are in the Netherlands competing in soccer and other sports as part of the largest group of American athletes to compete abroad in a Special Olympics.
The team at the Netherlands-U.S. conference on mental retardation and Special Olympics in The Hague includes 20 athletes and five coaches from New York, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as the District.
The local athletes, who form one of two six-member soccer teams for the United States, are Tracy Session, 16, of 221 Ely Place SE; Dale Edwards, 14, of the National Children's Center at 6200 Second St. NW; David Riggs, 15, of 4845 Robinson Place SE; Antonio Redd, 16, of 739 Seventh St. SE; Richard Coulter, 16, of 2243 49th St. NW; and Steve Williams, 17, of 5218 Blaine St. NE.
The team's head coach is Steven Mason of Bethesda, training director for Washington Special Olympics.
In addition to soccer, Session will compete in the pentathlon and the other District athletes will participate in the 200-meter dash. Although the athletes are not battling for a team title, first, second and third place finishers will win Special Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medals, respectively.
The games, which mark the establishment of a Special Olympics program in the Netherlands, are part of this year's 200th anniversary celebration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Besides three days of competition in swimming, diving, track and field, gymnastics and soccer, the U.S. representatives, including parents of some youths, will participate in a four-day conference on mental retardation.
Founded in 1968 by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, Special Olympics is the world's largest program of sports training and athletic competition for the mentally and physically handicapped. It offers programs in every state and more than 50 countries. More than a million athletes and 350,000 volunteers participate in Special Olympic programs worldwide.
Typical of the Special Olympics' ideals, the U.S. team's athletes were not picked primarily because of their physical talents.
"We considered the athletes who would most benefit from the experience," explained Hillary Henderson, spokeswoman for the National Special Olympics Office in Washington. "We also considered the athletes who have been in the program for the most years, and we avoided sending athletes who have previously competed in international events."
However, athletes' abilities were judged according to performances in regional competitions held each year. The Michigan and District representatives were picked primarily because they were members of soccer teams. The District soccer team members do not compete in a league, but practice soccer skills among themselves.