BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU
For Idaho native Tim Hughes, it all started with one girl named Olivia Cline.
“I was teaching a Sunday school class and I happened to have a student with a disability,” he said. “We began looking for something fun we could do together as a class and we decided that the next step we should take is to get her to participate in Special Olympics.”
Cline has cerebral palsy and while she was able to play sports as a young kid, by the time she was in junior high school she found it tough to keep up. With encouragement from Hughes and some of the other students in the class, she agreed to try Special Olympics as a floor hockey player. According to Hughes, it didn’t go well.
“Olivia decided it wasn’t a good fit and she didn’t want to participate. She didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t feel it was the right fit for her. I told her I thought we should give it a few more weeks and see what happened.”
What happened was this: Olivia Cline became an athlete so talented that she competed in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles as a swimmer. Hughes gets some of the credit for this story (he swam with her once or twice a week to help her prepare for the World Games) but he’s quick to bring in others who deserve credit, as well, for helping make Olivia’s story a good one.
“Luckily, there were a couple other girls in the class who wanted to participate with us via the Unified sports program,” Hughes said. “One of them is named Laurel Howe. She’s been great friends with Olivia throughout their lives. Everything Olivia did, Laurel was either empowering her to do or showing her how to do it.”
Olivia is not the only person Laurel has empowered. She’s the one who nominated Hughes to be recognized by the 2018 USA Special Olympics Games in the #ImAGameChanger campaign, a nomination that bothers Hughes a little.
“I’m not so sure that she isn’t a little more deserving than I am,” he said. “She’s been a pioneer in our little neck of the woods. We didn’t have any Unified programs in our area and now we do. She was the one who started it all.”
It would be one thing if Olivia Cline was the only person impacted by Hughes. But that’s just the start of the story.
Hughes has worked with Special Olympics in Idaho for the past seven years and has coached floor hockey, soccer, swimming, track, and bowling. His involvement may have started with helping Olivia Cline, but it was at a dance where he made the decision to go all in.
“I was looking at a dance that was being held in conjunction with the State games here in Idaho a few years ago,” he said. “Laurel was sitting next to me and I told her I didn’t think I could just coach one person or one team. I watched that dance and I vowed right there to try and coach every person at that dance if I could. There were about 1,000 athletes. I’ve probably coached about 100 of them so I’m down to 900 to go.”
Howe says Hughes is very good as a coach and has been impactful to the athletes in many ways.
“He works to provide inclusion as well as fun at every practice,” she said. “He is very dedicated to healthy lifestyles, encouraging athletes to try new sports, as well as building a community where different abilities are celebrated and everyone belongs.”
Hughes is a sprinkler contractor and downplays any athletic skill he might be able to impart to the people he coaches.
“It’s not a matter of my skills. I’m not a good bowler. I couldn’t win a race on the track. But I can empower the athletes to do that and that’s the whole point. Along the way, I’ve been surrounded by these gracious, kind kids like Laurel who embraced the whole idea of it. I love to coach, but I don’t think that’s as important as the people who make the effort to involve everyone in the sport.”
Tim Hughes and Laurel Howe. The ultimate win-win situation.