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Submitted photo

When the Hunnicutt family was awarded the honor of Special Olympics’ Family of the Year for 2020, it was unexpected to say the least.
“You never anticipate these awards and honors and it is just one of those things,” says Andy.

There are 10 areas in Indiana, Andy explains. Columbus and Hope are part of the Bartholomew, Brown and Jennings County area, which is considered Area 2.

The Hunnicutts were first recognized for their outstanding family participation in 2019.

“We did not win that year,” Andy says. “But the area holds nominations for two years. They took our 2019 nomination for county and we won the family of the year in 2020.”

Looking back, Andy says he never imagined he or his family would ever be involved with Special Olympics.

Having been involved with sports and coaching since 1979, Andy says not until he had his own special needs daughter did the thought of Special Olympics or getting involved crossed his mind. It wasn’t until Mindy did some research and found out about Special Olympics that the family became involved.

Their then 8-year-old daughter, Becca, needed an outlet for her boundless energy, as well as the camaraderie of others with special needs. Becca joined Special Olympics and has participated continuously since as the organization offers activities 365 days a year, Andy says.
As a coach at heart, it wasn’t long before Andy figured out he couldn’t stay on the sidelines.

“I jumped in; I couldn’t just sit and watch,” Andy recalls. “I helped. I think the first year I kind of watched basketball but I’m pretty sure I got involved fairly quick. I went out and helped and the next thing you knew I was running stop watches and working with athletes and it just kind of progressed from there.”

Over the years, Andy admits he and Mindy’s other three children, who now range in age from 25 to 30 years old, have at some point or another helped out along the way.

Today, Becca is member of the Special Olympics’ women’s basketball team. And though she doesn’t generally have much to say, when she does speak she is to the point.

For instance, when you ask Becca about COVID, her immediate response is “Cancelled.” A sentiment most people feel and would likely agree with these days.

When asked what she enjoys most about being involved in Special Olympics, “It’s fun,” she says.

Mindy, who works as a physician in the Columbus area, says Special Olympics has proven life-changing for Becca, as well as the entire family.

“For Becca, it has been incredibly important,” Mindy says. “Being from a small school there aren’t as many kids with special needs so it gave her the opportunity to meet a lot of people of different ages with Special Olympics, which I think was really important for her. She has learned to take turns. She’s made great friends.”

Mindy says the experience has been important for her personally because it has shown her where there were opportunities for inclusion, she says.

Looking back on their involvement over the years, Mindy says none of it would be possible without the community’s support.

“I want to make sure we let the community know how much we appreciate them when we have had an event in Hope at Hauser,” Mindy says. “We greatly appreciate the community’s help with events in the past. It has always warmed my heart. We can’t do it without the community and we wouldn’t have won the award without the community.”

Andy adds the family is also grateful to the Flatrock-Hawcreek School Board who has supported a host of Special Olympics tournaments, including basketball and volleyball.

The Hunnicutts say they are looking forward to getting back in the swing of things this spring. The anticipation of widespread COVID vaccinations is increasing hopes of a return to normal soon.

“We have not done anything in person since February of 2020,” Andy says. “What we have been doing is the state has organized an incredible number of virtual competitions. We exercise and keep score and those scores are submitted to the state office.”

As the Hunnicutts look to the future they plan to continue their work with Special Olympics.

“I still think we have a lot of years to go,” Mindy says.

A sentiment that Andy echoes.

“I really enjoy working with these special athletes,” Andy says. “I have a group of very dedicated people in this three county area who work their hearts out. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

When asked what advice she might have for other families out there who have heard of Special Olympics but haven’t gotten involved, Mindy doesn’t hesitate to respond.

“I would strongly suggest they join and find a sport,” she says. “The wonderful thing is it can be done with different sports at different times of the year. I would say join in and give it a try.”