By JIM WORKMAN
For the West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Oakland Raiders wide receiver Ryan Switzer has accomplished a lot early in his career, but off the field, his heart lies with a very special group – those dealing with physical and intellectual disabilities.
On July 14, Switzer will host the first “Switz Skills Challenge” in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, an event that will benefit Special Olympics West Virginia. It runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Children ages 6 to 13 of all abilities will participate with one another is a “unified” experience.
Registration is online at: gwhs.8to18.com. A limited number of spots are available.
Participants will engage in 40 -yard dash, 20-yard short shuttles, broad jump, power ball toss, position drills, a quarterback challenge, a punt game and group instruction.
Attendees will receive a gift bag, t-shirt, lunch and an autograph opportunity with Switzer and other celebrity coaches. Also included in the package is a ticket to the West Virginia Power minor league baseball game that evening, where a Ryan Switzer bobblehead will be given away to the first 1500 fans.
Cost is $25 will all proceeds benefiting Special Olympics West Virginia.
“It’s going to be good,” said Switzer. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the state of West Virginia. It’s important to remember my roots. I have a lot of special people, people that I care about back home.”
The Switz Skills Challenge will take place at Steve Edwards Sr. Field, at George Washington High School, where Switzer attended many camps as a youth and became a two-time Kennedy Award winning player for the Patriots. The Kennedy is given annually to the top prep football player in the state of West Virginia. He went on to become the all-time leader is receptions and receiving yards at the University of North Carolina, while also breaking records as a return specialist for the Tar Heels.
But it always comes back down to the kids for Switzer. He said he’s looking forward to interaction with participants at the event, with familiar faces and some new faces.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some smiles,” he said.
Switzer said supporting Special Olympics has long been a passion of his.
“Special Olympics is an organization I’ve kept close to my heart for a while now,” he said. “You talk about a selfless organization and selfless people, I feel that group is at the top of the list. The recognition that this event brings will be good for them.”
Organizing a first-year charity event has been a “challenge” in itself. But Switzer’s father, Michael, has been a driving force back home for the last several months.
“My dad has been the backbone of the whole thing,” Switzer said. “He’s done a good job of getting the word out and creating relationships with people and the sponsors, companies and individuals that are passionate about helping others.
“To have the amount of support we’ve seen from the community, it has been great.”
It’s not the first time Switzer has shown support for the organization.
He donated a pair of specially designed cleats he wore during practice and pre-game warmups at a game last season while with the Dallas Cowboys to Special Olympics West Virginia. The shoes had the SOWV logo emblazoned on them, in bright red and white colors.
Later in the game, Ryan scored his first NFL touchdown on an 83-yard punt return against the Washington Redskins before a packed house at AT&T Stadium and a Thursday night national TV audience.
The return specialist and wide receiver contributed 856 return yards, and caught six passes for 4 yards. He was named to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team.
The Oakland Raiders, now directed by head coach Jon Gruden, acquired Switzer in a Draft Day trade with the Dallas Cowboys.
As a result, moves from North Carolina to Texas to California became necessary for a young man just out of college.
“My world got much busier,” Switzer said.
Knowing former West Virginia University standout Bruce Irvin, now an Oakland Raiders linebacker helped with the transition. And Switzer’s special teams coordinator with Dallas, Rich Bisaccia, moved to Oakland this season as well.
Switzer has already participated in a post-draft camp with the Raiders.
“The transition has been smooth, the guys have been great,” Switzer said. “The receiver room has been fantastic too.”
For more information about Switz Skills Challenge, follow the event’s social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.