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 firstname.lastname@example.org. This post is part of a series of posts that look back on SOMO’s 40-year history.
My first event was the Area X Spring Games in Marshall, Missouri. I was in my early 20s, a little afraid of what I had gotten myself into, and I had no idea what to expect. We pulled into the parking lot in our yellow school bus along with about 10 or so other school buses, vans and cars. Some had signs in the windows that said “Go for the Gold,” “Good Luck Johnny, Billy, Martha, Kenny,” etc.
There were people everywhere it seemed, Most were wearing jackets and coats, because it was cool for that time in April. Most of them were kids, some younger and some older. A few were adults.
We headed for the gate to football field. We were on the campus of Missouri Valley College. Some college kids dressed as clowns met us at the gate handing out balloons and candy. One young college girl led us to a section in the bleachers and asked to sit there.
It seemed like there was lots of activity everywhere and most of it chaos. A band came marching in and all of the kids cheered. Pretty soon a lady stood up in front of us and welcomed us to Missouri Valley College and the 4th Annual Area X Special Olympics Spring Games. She was the area director and thanked the Missouri Valley College students for planning and volunteering at these games and the administration for allowing the use of the track. Someone from the college spoke and then announced, “Let the games begin!”
I watched in awe at what seemed to be a 3-ring circus. Kids were running races on both sides of the track. One side seemed to be the 100-yard dash, while the other had to be the 50-yard dash. On the infield, kids were throwing softballs, and on one side of the infield, there were kids jumping into the long jump pit.
A few wore gym shorts, but most wore blue jeans. Many had tennis shoes, but some just had regular shoes. A few wore their jackets while they competed because of the chill. Most just wore T-shirts, but some had button shirts on.
The awards area was in front of the main bleachers. There was an awards stand, and off to one side was a table piled high with multi-colored ribbons. Some student volunteers were there and one had a bullhorn. They would call out a heat number and bring the kids out and stand them on the awards stand or on the ground nearby. The guy with bull horn would announce the winners.
That is when it all came together for me. I understood what this meant. Each kid received an award whether they were first or last. Their broad smiles, shining eyes and puffed out chests made all my doubts dissolve. I knew why I had come. It was to see this wonderful moment when a Special Olympics athlete felt like a national champion.