When it comes to a Special Olympics Missouri competition, the athletes usually end up being the stars of the weekend. While that was still technically true for the State Outdoor Games Sept. 25-27 in Jefferson City, some volunteers and local supporters nearly stole the show.
The State Outdoor Games is one of SOMO’s three statewide competitions, which included athletes showing off their skills in golf, tennis, bocce, softball and flag football.
With more than 900 athletes competing in the capital city, it was a perfect opportunity for the community to show their support.
Despite the numerous other events going on that weekend (Helias’s homecoming, Oktoberfest, the moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, etc.), more than 1,000 volunteers attended SOMO’s State Outdoor Games and made the weekend an absolute blast for the athletes.
The start of competition on Friday brought out more than 150 student-volunteers from Blair Oaks High School where bocce competition was being held. The day before, a dozen guys from the basketball team helped SOMO staff unload a couple hundred pieces of 10-foot PVC pipe and assemble 24 bocce courts.
Despite this being something new for Blair Oaks and its student body, Principal Gary Verslues said hosting a SOMO event and allowing the students a day off school to volunteer was a no-brainer.
“We can set the books down for one day because in the big scheme of life, this is a very important part of what we do and what we embed in our daily instruction is how we treat one another and how we interact,” Verslues said.
“This is just one day for us. … Maybe it’s a little bit of novelty because it’s something new and different for our student body, but what I want them to realize is that a lot of people live this every day. … If there’s nothing else they get out of today it’s about how we treat people and serve others and communicate and interact with others.”
While they were tasked with running the bocce competition, Verslues said it was just as important to make sure the athletes had a good time.
“To start the day, we brought the entire student body down to cheer on the (athletes) and formed a tunnel (for the athletes to walk through),” he said.
“I know some of the participants really hammed it up a little bit. There was some high-fiving going on. It was a lot of fun.”
Other key volunteers in attendance last weekend included State Sen. Mike Kehoe (R.-6th district) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R.-MO).
In an interview with News Radio KWOS, Kehoe said that he goes to a lot of events around the community and sometimes wonder why he’s there, but he doesn’t feel that way with Special Olympics.
“I couldn’t get enough of the athletes, the staff and the volunteers,” Kehoe said. “It was fantastic. There’s thousands of volunteers for Special Olympics statewide… and it’s just one of those things you get addicted to it.
“These folks when you meet them, when you see their passion, when you see their joy and the inspiration these games bring to them, it’s just electrifying.”
Blunt mentioned that he’s been a long-time supporter of Special Olympics Missouri and sees the programming it offers for people with intellectual disabilities as a lifesaver.
“I’ve been involved in it a long time,” Blunt said in an interview with News Radio KWOS. “Every story of every athlete here is a great story.
“I do love Special Olympics and the people who make it happen and the families that do so much their athletes and friends who wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
There are plenty of other SOMO competitions and events throughout the year to get involved with, including: Area bowling competition (Oct. 26 at Fort Leonard Wood, Nov. 21 in Fulton and Dec. 5 at Whiteman Air Force Base), the Polar Plunge (Feb. 20 in Columbia and Feb. 27 at Lake of the Ozarks) and the Area Spring Games in April.
As always, for more information on Special Olympics Missouri, visit http://www.somo.org.