SPRING HILL — Two years ago, the Special Olympics program in Hernando County was in trouble. After operating for 18 months without a coordinator, the fledgling organization had lost most of its volunteers. Bocce was the only sport local athletes were offered.
When Christine Hogan took over as the local coordinator in September 2012, she promised to revitalize the group. And she has.
With 15 volunteers, the organization now offers six sports to 75 athletes. The group also recently celebrated the grand opening of its office in Glen Lakes Plaza, north of Weeki Wachee.
It all was made possible with the help of volunteers, community support and donations.
To keep the momentum going, Special Olympics will host its first Spring into Music benefit Saturday at the Lake House in Spring Hill. It will include eight hours of musical entertainment, food and family activities.
A lineup of entertainers that includes the Uptown Peckers, Bad Boy Elroy and Razin Jane will offer blues, Southern rock, country and original music. Drive, the Tampa Bay Music Network's 2013 Band of the Year, is the headliner. The emcees will be former Tampa Bay radio icon Russ Albums and Eddie McConnell.
"It will be a great day of music," Hogan said, "and we will have local talent popping in as well."
The outdoor event will also feature a variety of food, such as ribs, barbecued chicken, Cuban sandwiches and hot dogs, as well as arts and crafts, raffles and auctions. Additional vendors can still participate, Hogan said.
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition for people 8 and older with intellectual disabilities. The event will help with the costs of providing activities to the local athletes.
"All the money that is raised stays in Hernando County," Hogan said. "It helps the athletes here and helps grow our program."
Local athletes recently finished competing in track and field and are gearing up for the swimming program in June. Other sports in the year-round program include basketball, softball, bowling and bocce. Soccer and volleyball are expected to be added next year.
"We have some great coaches who dedicate their time," Hogan said. "And we have a great team out there."
There is always a need for more volunteers and coaches. New athletes are also welcome. Hogan said she hopes to double athlete participation by next year.
"We're trying to bring awareness to our community and to let them know we're here and here to stay," she said.