The View From Inside the Bubble

July 26, 2010 at 12:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I spent all of last week inside a “bubble” of sorts at Abbott Sports Complex. Lincoln hosted the largest sports event in its history and I witnessed only a tiny sliver of the action. That kind of myopia has an odd effect on a person. Here I am surrounded by claims that Lincoln is a changed city and that the 2010 Special Olympics National Games were a resounding success, and yet despite my participation I have no way to judge if those things are true or mere hyperbole.

Based on my experience at the soccer venue I suspect a lot of things went very well. Lincolnites played nicey-nice with our guests; businesses saw a boost; the weather cooperated as much as July weather is going to cooperate; and so on. Organizationally I’m not aware of any major snafus.

Also based on my experience I suspect a lot of things could have gone better. The problem with bringing an event like the Special Olympics National Games to a city (and state) that has never hosted such a thing before is that there are few people around with the experience to know how to manage such a beast. The soccer venue was, in many respects, just another soccer tournament. Lincoln has been there, done that. But soccer was also just one small part of a much bigger event. That fact makes the event much different than, say, the Lincoln Cup. There were complications we should have foreseen but didn’t, and others we never could have anticipated. The management team learned and adapted on the fly. We’re all better for it. I assume the same is true for all the other events going on across the city.

My biggest complaint with the Games was the lack of faith in local volunteers. I know, I just said that we locals were ignorant of what it takes to pull off a huge event like this. But sometimes fresh eyes bring new—and better—perspectives on how things could or should be done. Those perspectives were not given the support they deserved. Instead, the Games Organizing Committee (GOC) strongly preferred its own methods. Fair enough—they’re the ones with experience, after all—but some of those decisions harmed the Games experience. I encourage Special Olympics to find ways to make the GOC more agile, in part by increasing its faith in local volunteer managers.

The GOC must also make information more easily accessible. And by information I mean all information. Consider that local volunteers didn’t get to see the Games Management System (GMS, the Games’ computer support software) until the Thursday before the games, and only a tiny fraction of volunteers were allowed access to it. Overall, the GMS was cloaked in mystery and the end result was harmful to the Games. Or consider that I didn’t receive any of the paperwork I needed to do my job until Sunday morning, despite months worth of requests by me and my supervisor. Or consider how difficult—if not impossible—it was for fans to find out when and where their teams (or any teams) were playing. I personally dealt with dozens of fans who complained about the paucity of event information available at 2010SpecialOlympics.org, and the misleading or incorrect information available from Lincoln Journal Star. (But please note that the LJS was very likely not to blame for the bad information. They received it from Special Olympics.) People—whether volunteers, athletes, coaches, heads of delegation, or fans—want and need information. Give it to them, preferably before they even know they need it.

But lest I sound too negative allow me to be clear: the soccer venue, at least, succeeded in our mission to provide an excellent experience for the folks we served. We are proud of that. I hope other venues—that is, everything outside my little bubble—can say the same.

Two last things. First, I want to give a shout out to Sgt. Todd Beam and others from the Lincoln Police Department and other area agencies who provided security at the soccer venue. To my knowledge they didn’t actually do much security over the course of the week. Thank goodness. Instead, they did what good police do: they were present and visible; they interacted with participants, volunteers, and fans; and they helped out in non-traditional ways, such as by fetching stray soccer balls from a cow pasture. Most importantly, they were prepared and it showed. Kudos to Sgt. Beam and the rest of the team for all their hard work, and kudos to LPD for supporting them.

Second, I want to give a thank you to all of the folks from the Nebraska National Guard who helped out with the Games. I don’t think most Lincolnites realize just how much work Guard personnel did for the Games. In short: a whole bunch of men and women in uniform worked their butts off last week (and before). Thank you.

OK, that should be enough Special Olympics posts for a while. grin

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The Comments

Nate July 26, 2010 at 5:02pm

I think you hit it pretty well.  If the game management system was half as confusing as the volunteer sign-up piece, that’s too bad.

I have a few friends who didn’t volunteer because the system was so bad.

Woo-hoo volunteering!

Errandbug Restaurant Delivery July 27, 2010 at 12:42pm

Taking suggestions!  I thought it was pretty well done and overall everyone was pleased with the outcome.

Mr. Wilson July 27, 2010 at 1:09pm

I vote you count down to this.

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