Looking Back: 1978 Softball Tournament

Gary Brimer is the Chief Sports Officer for SOMO. He has been on staff for 17 years. Prior to that, he was a volunteer area director and a coach. He can be reached at brimer@somo.org. This post is part of a series of posts that look back on SOMO’s 40-year history.

I remember the first-ever Special Olympics Softball Tournament held in Missouri. It was the summer of 1978 in the middle of July in Hannibal. We had received a letter asking us if we were interested in playing in a Special Olympics Softball Tournament. Softball wasn’t even an official sport in Missouri Special Olympics, but of course our team was ready to play anything, so we began practicing.

I still wonder how I ever made it through those early years. Only a handful of the kids had their own gloves. Most had never even held a bat. Asking them to throw a ball was out of the question. But they wanted to play, so we worked twice week for as long as I could stand it.

And so we traveled the nearly three hours to Hannibal in three vehicles full of some of the most obnoxious, loud, wonderful, hilarious and loving kids. It was hot and we were ever so glad to arrive at our designated housing for the next two nights, until we found out where we were staying.

It had been arranged for all of the teams to stay in a primitive Boy Scout camp. There we stayed in log cabins with no electricity and only one source of running water in the entire campground.

The kids were thrilled. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs cooked over a wood fire, with chips and sodas. Later on we had s’mores. It was fun until we had to go bed. We only had one flashlight, and as I said this place was very primitive. After I had walked all of the groups to their cabins, because they would ONLY go with me in case of a bear attack, I finally walked my group to their cabin.

We spent half the night answering questions about each sound that was heard or that they thought they heard and the other half of the night walking someone to the bathroom, which was the nearest tree or bush.

Finally, morning arrived and we ate cold cereal with milk for breakfast. Then it was time to play. I think there were five teams that ended up playing that first year. There were no divisions, we just played each other. I think we played three games that first day and I know we won all of them.

That night we had McDonald’s hamburgers and fries with orange drink. The fries were cold and limp and the burgers were four hours old, but they were free. The worst part was going back to the cabins with a bunch of stinky kids and no showers. The best part was that they were too tired to worry about noises, but we still had to walk them into the woods to go to the bathroom.

The next morning we had more cold cereal and milk and back to the field. We won our last game and then had to play in the championship. The team we were to play had been our toughest competition and they had not yet played that day.

We won by few runs, but the biggest excitement was the triple play we turned that took what seemed like 15 minutes.

With runners on first and second and no outs, our shortstop caught a fly ball (1 out), but both runners took off on the hit and the batter ran to first. The shortstop ran over and tagged the runner at third (2 outs) and then threw the ball back to our pitcher. I immediately yelled for our pitcher to throw the ball to first base.

Of course the other coach was yelling at his player on second to return to first. And all the while I begged and pleaded with our pitcher to throw the ball to first to no avail. Finally I asked why she wouldn’t throw it to first, and amidst all of the uproar, she told me that I had not told her why she should throw it to first. So, of course I began to explain it to her. Finally she understood and threw the ball to first, while the poor runner at second just stood there so proud for advancing, and we completed a triple play.

Later, after receiving our trophy, our athletes decided they were going to try playing softball again maybe, as long as it wasn’t so hot. And then we drove home with the stinkiest bunch of kids I have ever been with, but they were also the happiest.

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