About Special Olympics Missouri

Promoting acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities through sports.

20 years of Plunging at Osage Beach

Starting a new fundraiser is always a risky venture for a non-profit organization.

“How much time do we dedicate to something new?”

“What if no one shows up?”

“What if it’s successful, but people don’t come back because they did it once and that’s it?”

When Susan Stegeman, Special Olympics Missouri vice president, first heard about a potential new fundraiser 20 years ago – the Polar Plunge — she said she wasn’t really sure what to think. She reached out to fellow Special Olympics programs that were already putting on Polar Plunge events, asking for their help.

Her pitch for Osage Beach P.D. to hold the first Plunge was all about being a part of something “really huge.”

Once the police department signed on, she said everyone else in the community really gravitated toward the event not just due to the cause, but the uniqueness as well.

That first year’s Plunge had 54 people take a dip and raised more than $8,200.

“Back then we didn’t really know what to do, so we just had everybody go in at the same time and it was over in about eight seconds,” Stegeman said. “Who would have thought from our humble beginnings 20 years ago that we would grow into this mecca, mega-event?”

Embraced from day one

The Lake of the Ozarks Plunge is a partnership between an organization and community that means so much to both parties.

Pete Leyva of the Osage Beach P.D. has been on the Lake of the Ozarks Plunge Committee for 15 years. He has seen the impact the Plunge has on the city during a slower part of the year, tourism-wise.

“When Susan Stegeman first got a hold of Chief Troutman that first year, she could have went to many different lakes,” Leyva said.

“We are the granddaddy of all the Plunges. We are proud to hold that moniker and what it does for the city especially at this time of year bringing that many people in. They’re not just Plunging, they’re going back to the motels, shopping at our businesses and this time of year the merchants just appreciate their business.

Even more importantly to Leyva and other committee members involved, Leyva has seen the effect it has on SOMO’s athletes.

“It’s a lot on our shoulders, but at the same time I do it for Special Olympics,” he said. “I’ve been to the events. I’ve been to the Summer Games. I’ve been to the USA Games the first year we had them. I’ve been to different events for Special Olympics… What Special Olympics has done for me, even though I give back, I could never give back as much as they’ve given to me.”

‘The kindest of the kind’

While committee members and SOMO staff have worked tirelessly over the past 20 years to make it a successful event, the Lake of the Ozarks Plunge wouldn’t be the Lake’s largest winter party without the Plungers themselves. And four people have been there since the very beginning – Randy Werner, Norma Brown, Curt Yaeger and Ed Flaspohler.

“We all came down that first year and started it,” Flaspohler said. “We went in three or four times that first year. It’s been a great cause.”

Brown said while many like to say they’re the craziest of the crazy for Plunging, she likes to think of them as “the kindest of the kind.”

“It’s a great cause… If we can do this for (the athletes) and raise money for them so they can do things that we all like to do then giddy up, right?,” Brown said.

Always looking to improve

Just like with any good event, the Lake of the Ozarks has always looked for ways to not only make more money for SOMO, but to also improve the overall Plunger experience.

It’s no longer an event where people jump in and out and get on the road, it’s a whole-day experience beginning with the Polar Bear Strut (5k/fun run), the Super Plunge where the bravest of the brave Plunge 24 times in 24 hours, the Parade of Costumes, Post-Plunge Party and so much more.

“Overall, 20 years looking back it’s pretty amazing that it just continues to grow and grow and be part of people’s winter traditions,” Stegeman said. “I talk to people who say that it’s their family reunion. I talk to people who say they wouldn’t miss it and they don’t. They just come and make a weekend of it at the Lake.

“So it really is a tradition at the Lake that we’re proud to be a part of — to be the beneficiary of everybody’s hard work in the winter.”

The Lake of the Ozarks Plunge over the years has had more than 9,500 people and raised more than $2.3 million.

“That’s a phenomenal accomplishment and effort on people’s behalf,” Stegeman said. “I have to give a huge thank-you to the Lake of the Ozarks community, especially Osage Beach who has wrapped its arms around this like no one else.

“Thank you for making the magic happen from the beginning and believing in something we didn’t really know what it could become, but looking back it’s been pretty awesome.”

Replicating that success

It was nine years before SOMO staff decided to take the Plunge to another part of the state – Lake Saint Louis in 2004.

“While we knew the Plunge was awesome and growing every year… we wanted to make sure the one at the Lake of the Ozarks was solid before we started messing with it,” Stegeman said.

“We had this fear that people wouldn’t come to the Lake and start going somewhere else. That really isn’t what happened at all. We found out that there are many, many people who will Plunge right in their own communities and not impact the Lake of the Ozarks Plunge.”

The following year in 2005, they added the Plunge in Kansas City and in 2014 (not all 2015 numbers are in yet), Special Olympics Missouri held more than 14 Plunges around the state with more than 4,615 participants raising nearly $1.1 million.

But it all started with the Plunge at the Lake; and the community and people who Plunge there are so proud to have been a part of it for 20 years.

“This is THE Plunge,” Brown said. “You come to this one regardless of where other locations are having it around Missouri, because this is THE Plunge.”

Werner said the Plunges have played a huge role in spreading awareness not just about Special Olympics’ athletes, but people with intellectual disabilities in general. No matter how much money has been raised over the years, he said you can’t put a price on that kind of exposure.

“I think statewide, Special Olympics has gotten more and more attention because of the Plunge and people don’t have any problem doing strange things for a good cause,” Werner said.

“The awareness that this has perpetuated is just going to keep growing and has grown all over the state not just with the Plunge, but all kinds of other events.”

Partner Highlight: Missouri Association of Student Councils

fort osage bowling socialThe Missouri Association of Student Councils (MASC) chose Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) as their charity of choice 24 years ago. Since that time, they have been raising funds and awareness in junior high and high schools across the state. Member schools are encouraged to assist with Special Olympics events in their areas. Many of the schools host events, volunteer at events, do fundraisers, participate in the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign and take the Plunge. The students volunteer an average of 12,000 a year, equating to 288,000 hours they have given to Special Olympics Missouri in 24 years. The students learn the importance of serving others and their commitment to SOMO extends beyond high school graduation.

MASC volunteer at YAP“There is not an event I attend that I don’t find a volunteer who learned about Special Olympics because of their involvement with MASC,” SOMO Sr. Director of Programs Trish Lutz says. “Recently, at the Jefferson City Regional Basketball tournament, I was talking with a group of girls who came from Mizzou to volunteer. I asked how they got involved and one girl said ‘I was in student council in high school and we were members of MASC and SOMO was our charity of choice. I would always volunteer at the Area Spring Games in St. Louis and I wanted to continue volunteering in college so I invited a couple of my college friends to join me today.’”

Dexter STUCO plungeIn 2009, MASC stepped up the commitment and really promoted the Polar Plunge. That year, 700 youth raised more than $99,000. The momentum they have generated since 2009 has resulted in a grand total of $624,888.33 being raised just through the Polar Plunge. This amount does not include all the other fundraising the individual schools do throughout the year.

MASC promotes and teaches acceptance, respect and inclusion for all. Our athletes are included in the MASC Summer Leadership Workshop where they work side by side with their peers developing their leadership skills, confidence and building a bridge of acceptance and change for all. The interaction between the youth leaders and the athletes is amazing! Athletes grow from timid, unsure individuals to outgoing, confident leaders who are ready to get involved with their student council as representatives, run for office and plan school activities. Youth leaders learn to embrace individual differences and the value of inclusion.

Savannah Middle SchoolMASC received the 2013 Special Olympics Missouri Award of Excellence. This is the highest honor the board bestows on an individual or organization for their years of service and impact on the SOMO program.

Special Olympics Missouri is lucky to have found a true friend in the Missouri Association of Student Councils. They are educating the leaders of our future to be agents of change, fostering respect and dignity through service to others.

If you know of a school that would be interested in being a member of MASC, visit their website at www.masc1.org.

Volunteers take responsibilities to the next level: Committee members

In 2015, we are focused on highlighting SOMO’s countless volunteers. In this month’s feature, we showcase how committee members help SOMO staff plan and run events.

SOMO’s “day-of volunteers” really make what we do for our 16,500 athletes possible at our 253 trainings and competitions every year. But the volunteers who take their commitment to the next level are the people who work behind the scenes planning those events.

Every SOMO event – competition or fundraiser – has a committee of dedicated volunteers who believe in our mission enough to spend weeks and months ahead of time planning the event.

Pete Leyva of the Osage Beach Police Department has served on the Lake of the Ozarks Polar Plunge committee for 14 of the 20 years the Plunge has been there.

“The planning for our Plunge starts two to two and a half months in advance,” Leyva said. “People are selected to do specific jobs and you’re talking about fundraising, recruitment, sponsorships … there’s quite a bit of planning that goes on with this specific event.”

With close to two dozen people on the committee, it shows how much the community has bought into the event and the organization.

“I couldn’t do what I do without my committee,” said Lake of the Ozarks Plunge Coordinator Crystal Schuster. “They are a diverse group of individuals, with many talents and they truly make this event happen.

Having a committee of local people at our events is essential – they know the community better than anyone, have connections and can hook us up with businesses and organizations that we might never be able to connect with otherwise.”

We like to say that if you volunteer at just one of our events, you’re hooked for life – the same seems to go for serving on our committees as well.

“It’s funny the way I’m involved, it was my first year on duty and my lieutenant called me into his office and said, ‘Guess what you’re doing this weekend … the Polar Bear Plunge,’” Leyva said. “I did that Plunge the first year and then got on the committee that next year and don’t see myself getting off for quite a while.

“It’s not just about doing the Polar Bear Plunge, it’s all about Special Olympics. I mean I’ve been to the events. I’ve been to the Summer Games. I’ve been to the USA Games the first year we had them. … What Special Olympics has done for me even though I give back, I could never give back as much as they’ve given to me.”

In addition to the normal Plunge responsibilities, when Leyva joined the Plunge 14 years ago, he wanted to bring something different to the Plunge that fit another one of his passions – running.

The Polar Bear Strut – a 5k fun run/walk — was born in 2002 and has seen more than 1,638 runners and walkers over the years and has raised more than $106,295.

“It’s a lot on our shoulders, but at the same time I do it for Special Olympics,” Leyva said. “I love Special Olympics. I love the athletes.”

Schuster said Leyva is one of those volunteers who just “gets it” and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the event runs as smoothly as possible.

“We couldn’t do the Strut without Pete,” Schuster said. “He has been a part of it from the beginning and I cannot even imagine having that event without him. He is able to think outside the box and think of ways to better the event.

“Pete loves running and he loves SOMO – so being able to combine these two things for the Strut is awesome. He truly helps make this event the success that it is.”

Serving on a committee is just one way that people can take their SOMO volunteering to another level and not only is it greatly appreciated by SOMO staff members, but it helps the committee members see a different side of SOMO.

“I’d like to call out people who have been interested in Special Olympics,” Leyva said. “Get on a committee. The athletes need coaches… there are just different ways to volunteer in Special Olympics and all you’ve got to do is get a hold of people at the SOMO office and they’ll find something for you to do.”

Schuster added, “They are able to think outside of the box, many times when I, as a staff member, cannot seem to see beyond the things that we see as the ‘norm’ – and this is what makes our events such a success.

“My committee members have gone above and beyond on so many occasions and many of them have become great friends as well.”

Simmons, Elrod, May inducted into SOMO Hall of Fame

On Jan. 17 in a surprise presentation in Branson, athlete Duke Simmons of Columbia; coach, board member and advocate Larry Elrod of Neosho and coach and advocate Linda May of Olathe, Kan., were inducted into the Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) Hall of Fame. They believed they were simply attending a Special Olympics Missouri Annual Awards Luncheon to find out how else they could further the athletes’ cause when their names were announced at the Hall of Fame luncheon.

SOMO can induct up to two athletes and two non-athletes into the Hall of Fame each year.

Simmons, Elrod and May were recognized alongside the newest inductees to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, including former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, former Kansas City Royals player Billy Butler and 13 others. The enshrinement ceremony took place at the University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Springfield on Jan. 25.

Duke Simmons, Athlete
Duke Simmons has been a Special Olympics Missouri athlete for 30 years. In his career, he has participated in basketball, volleyball, track, softball, golf, bocce, bowling and soccer. In 1995, he was a member of the Team Missouri soccer team and traveled to New Haven, Conn., to compete in the World Games. He and his team came home with a bronze medal.

Duke is the “face of SOMO” in his hometown of Columbia. He is a role model for the other athletes on his team, exemplifying the true meaning of sport through his actions as a gracious, determined and calm athlete who focuses on good sportsmanship.

He is a coach’s dream as he is a top-notch listener, tries hard, is an excellent leader, respectful and responsible. As a team leader, he works to keep his fellow teammates focused and often times guides them in the right direction. When he is not training or competing in Special Olympics, Duke spends his time at the Veteran’s Hospital volunteering his time or helps at SOMO fundraising events.

Duke is a self-advocate, and a dedicated member of the local People First chapter of Boone County. A major goal of the organization is to make sure people with disabilities are fully included in community life. Along with other members, he participates in local and legislative advocacy activities, meeting with local citizens and public officials to show that beyond disability, we are all people first. Fellow athletes look up to Duke and depend on him for guidance. He is an athlete, an advocate and most of all a friend to everyone.

Larry Elrod, Volunteer
Larry Elrod has been involved with Special Olympics Missouri for more than 20 years. He began his volunteer career as a SOMO basketball coach. Since then, he has been a Unified Partner in golf for more than 10 years, has been an event manager at area and state events and contributed to fundraising efforts at all levels.

Larry has served in some of the most important leadership roles as a member of the SOMO Board of Directors from 1992-2001 and then again from 2004-2012, serving a total of 16 years on the Board. He is a past board chair, development committee chair and strategic planning council chair. His leadership in SOMO led him to be elected to the United States Leadership Council for six years, where he made an impact on the entire Special Olympics movement.

He is best known as the “defender of the athletes” on the SOMO Board of Directors. In Board meetings, he always ensured any action taken by the Board was in the best interest of the athlete. He is well respected at the local, state and national levels. When Larry Elrod speaks, people listen. He is a generous supporter and is dedicated to the mission of Special Olympics.

Linda May, Volunteer
Linda May began her career as a Special Olympics Missouri coach in 1974 as an adapted PE teacher with the state schools. She has coached at three World Games in 1987, 1995 and 1999. In 1998, she held the first SOMO Challenge Day for athletes with severe and profound disabilities.

Through Linda’s leadership she helped start roller skating, cycling, bocce and floor hockey in Missouri. She was the first bocce sports director and has traveled to other states to train them to start their own bocce programs. Linda has coached and been certified in more than 21 different sports and is one of the first coaches to introduce Unified Sports in the early 90s. Linda developed a strong family-based program where she included the parents and siblings of her athletes as coaches, chaperones and Unified Partners.

Since retiring from her adapted PE job at Trails West State School and with the population changing within the state schools over the years, Linda continues to coach her graduates, who are well into their 30s and 40s now and their parents are right there with her! Linda’s dedication to her athletes, pioneering the addition of new sports, helping other states grow their programs has made her an icon in the movement.

Randy Boehm named SOMO Volunteer of Year, others honored

All of the volunteers below were recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri from their respective areas at the SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 17 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were also announced at the SOMO Leadership Conference.

Randy Boehm — Headquarters nominee
Randy Boehm has proven himself as an invaluable leader within the LETR program. He presently serves on the LETR Committee, having chaired it for 10 years. He is a torch runner turned region coordinator, where he served for 10 years. Then he stepped into the committee chair role and during the next 10 years it went from a good LETR program to an excellent LETR program. During this same time, Randy also became a part of the SOMO Board of Directors. He served the organization starting in 2006 and influenced decisions and governed. Two of these years he was both Board Chair as well as the LETR Chair. He always kept the needs and impact of SOMO’s athletes in mind. He was the Strategic Planning Council Chair for 2009 – 2010 and the Vice Chair for 2009 – 2010. He served as the Chairman of the Board in 2011 and 2012. Randy also led the LETR movement to join in support of the Training for Life Campus Capital Campaign by championing a commitment of $1 million over five years to support this new training facility. He also served from November 2008 to November 2013 as the regional coordinator of the International LETR Executive Council. In this role, he served as the liaison to five other states with communication and collaboration a focus. This region was always a leader in fundraising results compared to other regions.

Linda Tyler — St. Louis Metro Area
Linda Tyler started her SOMO experience as a coach for Wentzville Special Sports and fell in love with the program and our athletes. Even while completing graduate-level classes in 2014, she attends so many events as a volunteer within the St. Louis Metro Area and statewide. After learning the rules of sports such as bowling and basketball, Linda is always the first to offer her help as an event manager at local and area events. She will travel on her own dollar to state games and volunteer multiple days in a row, always serving as a smiling face to athletes and a helping hand to staff. After being selected as a Unified Partner in bocce for the 2014 USA Games, Linda agreed to take on a major fundraiser to benefit the coaches and athletes from the St. Louis area traveling to this event. With limited assistance, Linda coordinated multiple concession stands at this year’s regional basketball tournament, purchasing the supplies, creating the menu and finding the volunteers to help.

Charlie Aiken — Southwest Area
Charlie Aiken is one of those volunteers you can really count on. He will drop anything to help SOMO. He is friendly and kind-hearted. Whenever help is needed, he volunteers his time without hesitation. Charlie has many helpful contacts and resources to offer SOMO that he doesn’t mind reaching out to. He always works hard to get the job done and does a good job at it. Every year for Area Spring Games, Charlie donates his time and trailer to help us load and haul all the equipment we need for the games. He helps organize and implement fundraisers such as the Unified bocce tournament. Charlie will even stand out in the blazing heat to cook hundreds of hamburgers and hotdogs all while keeping a smile on his face and cracking jokes.

Jen Rose — Southeast Area
Jen Rose is about as consistent of a volunteer as they come. She helped coordinate volunteers and was a venue coordinator at area basketball, district basketball and Area Spring Games in both Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau. She served on the Polar Plunge committee and was a key part of its success. Jen attended and helped with State Basketball Championships in the Kansas City area. Previously, for four years she served on the Games Management Team for the State Fall Games in Cape Girardeau, where she was in charge of volunteers as well as helping with every aspect of the games. On late notice, Jen agreed to help with the area bowling tournament in Cape in the fall and stepped up in the fundraising category to have Southeast Area Special Olympics be the benefactor from one of the Cape Girardeau Roller Girls Bouts in Cape. Jen is employed by Southeast Missouri State University and has made a commitment to help Special Olympics Missouri as often as she can. She held up this commitment for many years, this year being no exception. Jen has sacrificed a lot of personal time and work time on some occasions to do this. She gives to the organization because of pure desire and choice. Volunteers like this are hard to find!

Amanda Geno — KC Metro Area
Amanda Geno is one of those volunteers that the KC Metro Area staff knows it can turn to in a pinch, no matter if it is on the program or development side. She is active in all areas of the program. Amanda serves on the area GMT for all sports and when there are regional GMTs in the Kansas City area, she is the first to step up and help. She is a Unified Partner and recently attended USA Games as a Unified Partner in bowling. Amanda has also been a great mentor/role model for many of our athletes. She takes time out of her day to be there and help them or even just listen when they need a friend. Amanda serves as the Torch Run coordinator for her law enforcement agency. She was very involved in LETR prior to her becoming her agency coordinator. She sold T-shirts, participated in the annual Torch Run, served at many Tip-A-Cop events and has attended many annual LETR International Conferences representing her agency. Amanda was the driving force behind creating a citywide Torch Run route for Kansas City. Amanda has been on the Polar Plunge committee since joining the Lee’s Summit Police Department. In 2014, the event chair stepped down after eight years. The Plunge committee asked many people to step up and chair this amazing committee but no one was willing to make the time commitment. Amanda was already involved in all aspects of SOMO, but she saw a need and stepped up to chair the Polar Plunge committee.

Missy Ash — Central Area
Missy Ash is the center of the Hermann program! She sends out letters to all the participating schools, raises the funds through local company and civic organization donations, ensures that each athlete competing has a commemorative T-shirt to wear for the day in various colors (by the schools) and helps recruit volunteers.
Through her vision, this event has grown to this year host 134 athletes, 50 Young Athletes and 100 volunteers. Through Missy’s contact, she was able to secure the local Mason Lodge which not only donates all the food for the team lunches, but also gives back money and runs the concession stand. In six years, Missy was able to grow this event from three schools in 2007 to 11 schools in 2014. One of the most touching things that this event has done is that it has brought the idea to other communities. A teacher who was involved in the early years at Hermann with Missy moved to another school district and last year that school district became involved.

Lynett Bingaman — North Area
Lynett is involved in several aspects of the North Area program. She has served on the Plunge Committee for the past four years, she is the official money counter of the Plunge, she recruited several new volunteers to help with the Plunge registration process, she has served as a volunteer at the many of our program events and she partnered with us in the Duck Race for three years. Lynett is a whirlwind of new ideas, always researching new fundraising events, matching grants and grants in general that SOMO can apply for. If she hears about an opportunity for a non-profit, she calls and informs staff as well. Lynett works full time for another non-profit organization, but she will share her resources, knowledge, time and talent to help Special Olympics and the athletes. She wears her heart on her sleeve and always has the best intentions for our athletes.

Mandie Bowman of North Area named best SOMO coach, others honored

All of the coaches below were recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri from their respective areas at the SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 17 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were also announced at the SOMO Leadership Conference.

Mandie Bowman — North Area
Mandie Bowman was an assistant coach for many years and now has progressed to be the liaison for all the schools within the St. Joseph School District. Mandie is one of the most energetic coaches as she has taken her coaching responsibilities a step further by setting up Fan Clubs. She is the voice in the St. Joseph School District when it is budget time, and she helps by recruiting volunteers for YAP. She helps utilize the school district and the facilities more than the North Area program has ever done in the past. Without Mandie’s help, we would not be utilizing the SJSD and the facilities as we are today. Mandie was instrumental in starting the T.U.F. Club at Truman Middle School, which stands for Truman United Fans. They hold pep rallies prior to events, decorate the athletes’ lockers, help with fundraisers, become Unified Partners and have volunteered at local and area events.

Keith Patterson — Southwest Area
Keith Patterson has been a coach for more than 10 years. He coaches bowling, basketball and athletics for the Neosho School District. Besides being a volunteer coach, he is also a Unified Partner and volunteer official. Keith has been known to do all three in one day if he is needed. He loves watching his athletes fill with joy as they receive their medals. He always has a smile on his face and positive words to say. He continues to grow the school’s Unified Sports program every year. Over the past few years, Keith has done an outstanding job helping with the area basketball tournament. He gets the gym space, officials and volunteers. He has also taken it upon himself to get shirts for every athlete who attends. Last summer, Keith coached the Team Missouri women’s basketball team at the USA Games in New Jersey. He worked hard to unite athletes from across the state to play as a team; and as a team they proudly brought home the silver medal. Keith is also very involved in the local Polar Plunge.

Jeff Partridge — Southeast Area
Jeff Partridge first realized how important Special Olympics is when his son Ryan became involved in the program. He began by helping the Rebels team with basketball, eventually becoming their head coach. Basketball led into softball and softball led into bowling. Jeff has a real desire to see his team improve and excel. With Jeff, there is no off-season. He is a true leader and friend to his athletes. They all look up to him and work hard on and off the court to be the best they can be for him. Jeff is the Chief Engagement Officer of the YMCA of Southeast Missouri. This is a wonderful facility in the Southeast Area and Jeff invites our teams in to practice or work out for whatever season they are preparing for. Jeff has also become instrumental in assisting us with the Young Athletes Program.

Sheri Morris — St. Louis Metro Area
As a physical therapist at St. Charles Habilitation Center, Sheri Morris directly sees the social and physical benefits that Special Olympics offers her clients and is constantly pushing them to be involved in as much as possible. She escorts athletes to Blues and Rams games with tickets that have been donated to SOMO, she is at every weekend Field Day that her athletes might enjoy, and she makes sure athletes and staff are at every program event possible. Some of Sheri’s clients participate in aquatics with another coach and she’s always there cheering on her friends, even though she is not coaching them!

Dee Peterson — Central Area
When Dee Peterson first started with Special Olympics, she was a special education teacher and wanted a chance for her students to participate. Time went on and Dee moved to a “regular” education classroom, but not giving up her love for her former students and Special Olympics, she stayed on as the coach for Laquey Schools. Previously, Laquey athletes only competed in the area bowling tournament and the Area Spring Games. Wanting to give them a chance to experience something new, she asked for them to compete in the state bowling tournament. With her help, the Buckhorn Local Bowl was born. What went from a little local bowl has now evolved into a Unified Team Local Bowl! Later, she was interested in basketball, so the Unified 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament was born! In mid-March, small schools from the area put together Unified 3-on-3 teams and come over to Laquey Middle School to compete against each other.

Venessa McCloud — KC Metro Area
Venessa McCloud began volunteering for Special Olympics winter sports in 1989 while working at Snow Creek in Weston. Moving to Platte County Board of Services (PCBS) in 1992, she saw the need to provide the full range of recreational and athletic opportunities to those who predominantly live in group homes. Twenty-five years later, Venessa is the glue that holds the PCBS Special Olympics program together. She has been instrumental in the development of the SOMO program for PCBS, putting in the extra time and effort required. She is fully qualified as a head coach for basketball, track and field, bowling, golf, swimming, skiing, bocce and snowshoe racing. As a qualified CPR and First Aid instructor, Venessa ensures all coaches and volunteers meet the medical training required to participate in SOMO sports. She has actively recruited, trained and mentored the athletes, parents, volunteers and other coaches in an exceptionally run SOMO program that successfully meets the needs of more than 60 PCBS athletes year-round.

Robertson family of KC wins SOMO family of the year, others honored

All of the families below were recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri from their respective areas at the SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 17 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were also announced at the SOMO Leadership Conference.

The Robertson family — KC Metro Area
Veronica Robertson knew it was going to be hard to find opportunities for her son, who was born with a rare genetic disorder which caused intellectual disabilities along with dwarfism and speech delays. But when they joined SOMO for the sports experience, being there for Brett became so much more for her and her husband, Rob! Even Brett picked up more responsibility by helping the team. They came off the sidelines and offered to help at team practices. They became chaperones and certified coaches. They signed up for the Unified Partner jobs, decorated and planned the homecoming float and again continued that after Brett was off the team. They became equipment helpers; this is where Brett really took his job seriously. Veronica signed on to be a Polar Plunger in the second year of the KC Plunge and has plunged every year since. She became our Fan Club representative which led to her involvement in Miles for Medals. They have been involved with our Mantels and Martinis fundraiser and every other event where we sell tickets, go eat or just plain ask for money! When Brett aged out of the school team, all of their efforts were then focused on founding and supporting the new Lee’s Summit adult team. Without the Robertson/Nelson family, this adult team would not happen. They have been key in making sure the teams’ opportunities continue for all the graduating students. All the hard work they did on the school team has been transferred over to grow the adult team.

The Hulett family — Central Area
The Huletts lived in Moberly until mother Doreen was transferred to Florida. During their time in Florida, they found swimming and how it helped Logan with his autistic behaviors. Once the family came back to Moberly, they found SOMO and a swim program in Columbia. In 2013, Logan’s coaches nominated Logan to attend the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey. Moberly is not a large city, but the Huletts took on the challenge to raise the $1,500 to attend. They sold mums, wrote letters to ask for donations and solicited businesses in town. Logan raised the $1,500; in fact, they exceeded this amount. The Huletts raised a total of $3,367 – enough to help another athlete who was struggling to reach their goal. Logan went to the 2014 USA Games, as did his mom, dad and sister. It was not only a chance of a lifetime for Logan, but his family as well because it was their first vacation together!

The Leitterman family — North Area
The North Area has a family that has made an impact on SOMO’s program for the past several years. Greg and Janet Leitterman saw potential for growth with a fundraiser and they took the event and ran with it. They took a golf tournament that was making $1,500 to $2,000 per year and grew the participation and the sponsorship with results netting more than $7,000 in 2014. They start about six months out in preparation of the Brooke Leitterman Memorial Golf Tournament. They are raising the funds in memory of their granddaughter Brooke, who had Down syndrome and was active in Special Olympics. They wanted the golf tournament to raise enough funds to provide the programing for the athletes in their hometown of Cameron. They have made this event something to be a part of. They secure all door prizes, items for the golfers, meals, goody bags, facilities and hole sponsors. They have grown this golf tournament on their hard work, determination and persistence. They secure all the media sponsors as well for this event.

The Busken family — St. Louis Metro Area
SOMO is a family affair in the Busken family. Julie Busken is the Special Olympics program coordinator in the Warren County School District and her involvement in and passion for the program has spread like wildfire! Eldest daughter Brittany is right beside her mom, helping to coach at every event. Son Tyler recently officiated at the St. Louis Metro Soccer Tournament. Daughter Emma is a soccer, basketball and volleyball Unified Partner. Julie’s husband Greg has been recruited on multiple occasions to lend a helping hand at an event, move equipment between venues and coordinate rides for athletes. Julie and Brittany attended the 2014 USA Games — Julie as an athletics coach and Brittany as the volleyball sports manager. Both helped coordinate multiple fundraisers for this event. Julie even recruited extended family members to work a concession stand at the Edward Jones Dome. As every event passes, you can see the passion and dedication in this family grow. In addition to leading their Warrenton teams, they volunteer to help at every event they attend or just pitch in when they see a need.

The Gardner family — Southeast Area
Logan Gardner participates in Special Olympics Missouri programing year-round. He participates in basketball, bowling, softball, athletics, tennis and any type of dancing that is available. He also participates with the Sikeston Guns N Hoses team in the annual Polar Plunge. As you can tell he is a very busy guy! Logan joined Special Olympics many years ago and his family travels at least once a week from Sikeston (about 30 miles to Cape Girardeau) to ensure that he gets all the training he needs. This is quite an accomplishment in itself for this very busy family. The Gardner family is always ready and willing to do whatever is necessary for Logan and the other athletes. Melody (mom) has been delegated the team historian. She takes all types of photographs at all of the events, documenting the history of sports and good times in the Southeast Area. She is also very willing to share with the all fans of Logan and Special Olympics as she posts the accomplishments of all on social media. Logan’s sister Malory is also very active in Logan’s life and in the lives of all the athletes in the Southeast Area as she attends most competition and is their biggest cheerleader. Logan’s father, Tim, most recently became a Unified Partner in tennis and competed locally and at state with Lucas Blattel, another Southeast Area athlete.

Seth Dye and Melissa Reese — Southwest Area
Melissa Reese and Seth Dye are the perfect mother and son duo. They are both so friendly and caring. They have truly made Special Olympics a part of their lives. Seth is described by his coaches as kind, helpful and hardworking. Seth and his mom have become a great asset to the area. Not only does Seth participate in sports, he attends fundraisers such as the World’s Largest Truck Convoy and promotes the Polar Plunge by helping in the Maple Leaf Parade. Now Seth is becoming a Global Messenger so that he and his mom can continue to raise awareness for Special Olympics in the Southwest Area. Most recently, they teamed up to help with the Unified Bocce Tournament fundraiser. At the time, Seth didn’t know how to play, but thought it would be fun to learn a new sport and to help raise money. Melissa helped other staff and volunteers serve drinks and food as well as run the carnival games. They are both eager to help more in the future. The Southwest Area is lucky to have such a wonderful family.