By Conrad Dudderar
The Yukon Police Department paid tribute this week to the enduring legacy of a Yukon Special Olympian who deeply touched the hearts of officers, fellow athletes and others across Oklahoma.
A memorial image of the late Chris McClendon was unveiled Sept. 28 on the Yukon Police Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics vehicle – a Chevrolet Tahoe.
Chris’ spirit and determination exemplified the “true essence” of the Special Olympics’ movement, according to retired YPD Maj. Matt Fairchild.
The son of Sheryl McClendon and late Mark McClendon, and sibling to Shana and Matt, Chris will forever be remembered as a beacon of inspiration and goodwill.
“I’m just overwhelmed that they would honor my son,” Sheryl McClendon said after Thursday afternoon’s surprise unveiling.
“I’m blown away. Chris loved Special Olympics.”
Fighting back tears, Sheryl immediately recognized the image of her son from a photo taken during an Oklahoma State Special Olympics’ bocce competition in Stillwater. Chris participated in Special Olympics for more than 35 years.
The special dedication ceremony was outside the Yukon police station, 100 S Ranchwood.
Chris McClendon’s image was displayed with his mother and sister present “as a tribute to his lifelong commitment to Special Olympics,” according to YPD Deputy Chief John Brown.
Maj. Fairchild, a longtime supporter of Yukon’s special athletes, described Chris’ “remarkable journey with Special Olympics” that started at age 8 – forging a lifelong connection with the organization.
“Over the years, Chris participated in various events, showcasing his athletic prowess in the softball throw, 50- yard dash, bowling, and bocce ball,” Fairchild told the crowd at Thursday’s ceremony.
Special Olympics is a worldwide initiative dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities.
Chris McClendon’s spirit and determination exemplified the “true essence” of the Special Olympics movement, according to Fairchild.
Tragically, Chris passed away in January 2020, leaving a void that can never be filled.
However, his memory lives on through the dedication of the Yukon Police LETR vehicle, which prominently features his image.
This heartfelt tribute symbolizes the enduring impact Chris had on the Special Olympics community and his unwavering commitment to its cause, Fairchild added.
The Yukon Police LETR vehicle also showcases images of current athletes who participate in Special Olympics, celebrating their courage as athletes and highlighting the spirit of inclusivity that defines this global movement.
Chris McClendon’s ties to his alma mater were profound. He graduated from Yukon High School in 1991, leaving behind a lasting impression.
In addition to his involvement with Special Olympics, Chris was known for his love of food, his fascination with watching trains, and his thoughtful act of taking out neighbors’ trash cans before trash day.
Yukon special athletes were joined by Yukon Public Schools’ administrators and YHS special education teachers for Thursday’s dedication ceremony.
REMEMBERING THE ‘MILL SIT’
Through year-round sports training and competition, health initiatives, leadership programs, and advocacy efforts, Special Olympics promotes inclusion and provides opportunities for athletes to showcase their courage, experience, joy, and share their unique talents with the world.
The YPD’s participation in Special Olympics started in 1996 when officers Shawn King and Robert Felts got the idea to have a unique fundraiser by camping out atop the Yukon Mill grain elevators on Main Street. Officers Mark Solano and Fairchild agreed to join them.
“That is really what got this whole thing started for the Yukon Police Department,” said Fairchild, who retired in November 2022. “Since 1996, we’ve been doing some type of fundraiser.
“We continued doing the grain elevator sit for the next 15 years on an annual basis in April. … The longest time I even spent on the grain elevators was seven days.”
Through his participation in the LETR for Special Olympics, Fairchild has made so many great friends – among so many special athletes, volunteers and fellow officers.
Yukon Police Chief John Corn talked about the Law Enforcement Torch Run initiative for Special Olympics.
“We’re just so proud to continue that partnership with all the metro agencies and be a part of this organization which is near and dear to law enforcement as a whole,” Corn said.
The Yukon Police LETR vehicle is the fifth in Oklahoma. Others are in Oklahoma City, Edmond, Moore, and Tulsa; with five more planned.
Oklahoma City Deputy Police Chief Brian Jennings, director of Oklahoma’s LETR, said the organization surpassed its $500,000 annual fund-raising goal last weekend.
“I’m so happy and so proud that all these agencies get involved,” Jennings said. “It just shows the teamwork and camaraderie we have. We’re not here separated by uniforms. We’re here for one cause. We’re one team making a difference, just showing the community how much we care.”