Special Olympics Ontario honours Larry Hitchcock, who has been a volunteer for 15 years
By Pat Payton
It’s an award Larry Hitchcock certainly wasn’t expecting.
The St. Marys resident was recently named by Special Olympics Ontario as one of three coaches-of-the-year for 2020. Hitchcock was nominated for the award by Stratford Special Olympics community co-ordinator Jane Larkworthy.
He received his award Oct. 21 during a virtual ceremony, hosted by Special Olympics Ontario.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but to me it’s about the athletes and the joy that it brings them,” Hitchcock told the Independent in a recent interview. “To see the smiles on their faces when they accomplish something is what is special. That’s what it’s all about.
“For some of them, it’s the only social time that they get with other people. I got an award, but there are a lot of volunteers and families who do a lot of stuff. If you don’t have the volunteers, it doesn’t work. They all give of their time. What I won was an association award, but I’m thankful for it.”
Answered the call
Larry Hitchcock has been a year-round Special Olympics volunteer/coach for 15 years. But it was likely something he gladly did in May of 2019 that earned him the nomination. When another coach suddenly couldn’t take the local 13-member floor hockey team to the Invitational Youth Games in Mississauga, Hitchcock got a last-minute call and didn’t hesitate to take on the job.
“That was kind of the lynch-pin,” Larkworthy acknowledged. “We had to have three team staff because it’s a five-to-one ratio. It was in our best interest to have someone who the athletes knew and who knew the athletes. It was a bigger ask than usual and we would have been in some difficulty without him there.
“Larry takes things in stride,” she continued. “He always makes decisions that are in the best interests of all the athletes. He puts their well-being before other things. They are athlete-centred decisions. He’s calm and respectful of them, and they respect him. The award was certainly well-deserved.”
Last year, the Special Olympics Ontario Games featured 2,500 athletes. The floor hockey division alone featured a total of 43 teams. Hitchcock’s son Mike, 29, was a member of the Stratford and area squad.
Larkworthy noted that coaches carry a big responsibility over the four days the Games are held. “From the time the athletes depart from their communities to the time they return, it’s the volunteer’s responsibility,” she said.
Larry Hitchcock’s main two sports are bowling and golf, and he’s a head coach in both. He has also helped coach mixed slow pitch.
In January of 2019 in Oshawa, Hitchcock was coach of the Stratford five-pin bowling team that brought home the silver medals from the provincials. Mike Hitchcock was a member of that team.
Mike Hitchcock, meanwhile, has competed at the provincials in five different Special Olympic sports. In addition to bowling, the other sports he plays are slow pitch, soccer, floor hockey and golf.
He has also competed at the nationals in golf and slow pitch. In 2018, Mike competed at the nationals in golf in Nova Scotia. Larry and his wife Marie made the trip out east to cheer him on.
The Hitchcocks’ daughter, Franny, 35, also competes in Special Olympics. She lives in Stratford and competes in curling, slow pitch, floor hockey and bowling.
Note: Because of Covid-19, Special Olympics programs in the province are currently on hold.