About Special Olympics Missouri

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

Q&A: Jeff Cook, 2015 World Games Final Leg runner

Jeff Cook, right, poses for a photo with Joey Garrard at the State Summer Games

Jeff Cook, right, poses for a photo with Joey Garrard at the State Summer Games

Jeff Cook, a patrol supervisor with the O’Fallon Police Dept., was selected as Missouri’s representative for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg. 

Years at O’Fallon PD?
16 years (5 ½ years at St. Charles County Department of Correction prior to that)

Years involved in LETR?
Actively since 2004, but I bought my first Torch Run shirt in 1995 or 1996

What’s your story on how and why you first got involved with Special Olympics?
I was assigned to the Community Service Division at our department and was asked to help sell Torch Run T-shirts in August at the Shop ‘n Save event in 2003. My Sergeant, Ray “Tiny” Sanders, I was working for a the time helped to open my eyes a little to SOMO and LETR. The more I learned, the more I became more interested. In 2005, when he retired, I had the opportunity to take over as our Agency Coordinator and I jumped at the chance. In 2006 I had the chance to attend my first State Summer Games and attended my first International LETR Conference. Those two events were significant in catapulting my involvement and commitment.

Have you done a USA/World Games Final Leg before? If so, when?
No, In order to share the opportunity Missouri only allows an officer to attend a USA Games or World Games one time at this point.

What are your expectations on doing this World Games Final Leg?
My expectation is to once again be blown away by the movement and the impact of Special Olympics. The Law Enforcement Torch Run has been allowed to be a part of the lives of the athletes and families for so long and now I get to help spread the word in a part of our country that is about to play host to their biggest competition.

Jeff Cook poses for a photo with the Columbia team at a competition

Jeff Cook poses for a photo with the Columbia team at a competition

Why were you selected/what was the nomination process like for this?
It is my understanding that this was a selection process conducted by the senior members of SOMO and the LETR committee.

Why did you want to be involved in the Final Leg?
I began hearing stories about the Final Leg several years ago and started to appreciate the honor and opportunity that it was. My good friend Jeff Fugett had the opportunity to go to China several years ago for the Final Leg and his experiences and friendships sounded amazing. I hoped that I would get the opportunity to someday to represent LETR, SOMO and the Special Olympics friends I have mad along the way in this amazing way.

What about Special Olympics keeps you coming back/what’s your favorite part?
I don’t know what it is that keeps me coming back, it is a part of me and my family at this point. It’s just what we do. We don’t think about it, we just plan for the next event, fundraiser, games or whatever. SOMO and LETR is as much a part of my family as anything. I never overlook an opportunity to talk about the athletes or law enforcement’s connection to them. We have had a good life as a family and if giving a little bit of our time to be a part of their success is all they need I’m in.

Jeff Cook, left, poses for a photo with Jeff Cook of the Missouri Highway Patrol

Jeff Cook, left, poses for a photo with Jeff Fugett of the Missouri Highway Patrol

This is a guest blog entry from Allison D’Agostino, SOMO’s 2014 Outstanding Athlete, who attended the Indiana Athlete Leadership Programs University in March. ALPs University is a program that encompasses Global Messenger and teaches our athletes how to become leaders not just in the Special Olympics movement, but in their communities as well. Allison traveled to Indiana with SOMO staff members and a volunteer from Springfield because Indiana’s program is one of the best in the country. We are so thankful for their hospitality and can’t want to put on our very first ALPs University in fall 2015.

Going to Indianapolis last month was totally worth missing the swimmer’s area meet. I and a few staff went to the Indiana ALPs University to represent Missouri. We learned so much about the athletes, coaches and staff in Indiana. I look forward to when Missouri has a branch of the ALPs University.

In case you didn’t know, ALPs is short for Athlete Leadership Programs. Any Indiana athlete may join. They get together twice a year and take classes to advance their skills in becoming Special Olympic leaders, or any leader they choose to be. The athletes have several choices as to which class to take — whether it be Videography and Photography, Global Messenger (1 or 2), Introduction to Athlete Leadership, Powerpoint, and so much more. With Global Messenger, they get to be representatives and speakers for Special Olympics Indiana.

From left, Jacob Conklin (volunteer), Mary Bauer (SOMO staff member) and Allison D'Agostino pose for a photo during the Athlete Input Council.

From left, Jacob Conklin (volunteer), Mary Bauer (SOMO staff member) and Allison D’Agostino pose for a photo during the Athlete Input Council.

As short as the trip was, I had a lot of fun. I got to meet so many people. I was able to record footage in the Videography and Photography class that I will be combining both videos and uploading it on my YouTube channel. One of the things that I absolutely love about the ALPs University is that there was an Athlete Input Council meeting before the first class. This class allows athletes to talk openly and freely about what they like about the program and what they think can be improved. I found it absolutely inspirational.

A lot of the athletes spoke their minds and added many things on the list of ideas they had. The final tally was more than 40 ideas! While the athletes kept listing off more to add, Special Olympics Indiana CEO Mike Furnish, who was taking notes of all of the suggestions, encouraged them for more and even teased and picked on me throughout the council. He seriously wanted me to speak my mind, so that my thoughts could be count as input, and that was fun!

Towards the end, he finally managed to get me to say something. At that point, all the athletes were inspiring me. In fact, it almost brought tears to my eyes. I loved every moment being in that auditorium. It made me realize that the ALPs University needed to be all over the country, not just Missouri. So I stood after he pointed at me and said, “I think that ALPs University should have branches all over the country, including Missouri.” Before I could even sit down, a lot of the people in the audience applauded.

From left, Brandon Schatsiek (SOMO staff member), Allison, Jacob and Mary pose for a photo with parting gifts from SO Indiana at the conclusion of the weekend.

From left, Brandon Schatsiek (SOMO staff member), Allison, Jacob and Mary pose for a photo with parting gifts from SO Indiana at the conclusion of the weekend.

My trip to the ALPs University really affected me. It has put so many thoughts in my mind as to how to make Special Olympics Missouri better and improve. Not very many athletes in my state are involved in becoming leaders. I want to be more than a Global Messenger, more than a leader. I look forward to us having an ALPs University not just because we need it, but also because us athletes have so much potential in our disabled and/or able-bodied selves.

2015 Capitol Hill Day

Special Olympics Missouri is more than just sports for our athletes – it offers opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities who may not have received them elsewhere.
The Global Messenger program through Special Olympics Missouri is one such opportunity.

The Global Messenger trains SOMO athletes on what it means to be an athlete with an intellectual disability, the history of the program and most importantly, it teaches them how to find their SOMO story and then share it with the world. It’s all about telling their narrative while gaining the confidence and skills to give public speeches.

Becoming a Global Messenger gives athletes the belief that they can go into their communities and share their story and affords them opportunities to represent SOMO locally, nationally and globally.

Thomas Cleek, 15, of Columbia was trained as a Global Messenger prior to competing at the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey for golf. His sister, Mary, 17, is a Unified Partner® and coach of Thomas’s volleyball team. Their commitment together to foster dignity and respect for all is the reason they were selected to represent Missouri at Special Olympics Capitol Hill Day 2015.

Thomas and Mary pose for a photo while sightseeing in D.C.

Thomas and Mary pose for a photo while sightseeing in D.C.

Their mother, Heather, also went on the trip and said, “I wanted my kids to participate in Hill Day because I have seen firsthand how their involvement in Special Olympics has shaped them as individuals and as athletes.

“Thomas has become more confident and outgoing as a person and he has developed friendships and sportsmanship skills. Mary has become more nurturing, developed as an athlete and a coach and found purpose in her life.”

The Cleeks had never been to a Special Olympics Capitol Hill Day before, so they had little to no expectations going into meeting with their representatives. The purpose of the meetings was to ask for level or a slight increase in funding from the federal government to go toward Healthy Athletes (www.somo.org/HealthyAthletes) and Project UNIFY.

“I wanted to be a part of Hill Day because of the opportunity it gave me to make a difference for Special Olympics and its future programs,” Mary said.

So on March 17 the Cleeks flew into Washington, D.C., and attended a banquet where they heard Special Olympics CEO Janet Froetscher talk about the importance of getting their representatives to understand they were “a good investment” for federal funding, especially in regard to Healthy Athletes.

Thomas, Heather and Mary pose for a photo at the World War II memorial

Thomas, Heather and Mary pose for a photo at the World War II memorial

Practicing their speeches took up most of that afternoon as they tried to really understand what they were asking for and the best way to share their stories.
Thomas said he was looking forward to meeting “all of the people who work in the Capitol.”

“My job was pretty much to go in and tell my story about Special Olympics stuff I’m involved in,” Thomas said.

The following day, the Cleeks met with Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a representative from Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer’s office, a representative from William Lacy “Bill” Clay’s office, Rep. Ann Wagner and Sen. Roy Blunt.

Thomas was even invited to cast a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives by Rep. Wagner; he said this was his favorite part of the day.
Special Olympics empowers not just our athletes, but our families, volunteers and coaches so they can all share their story; because every person involved in SOMO has one to tell.

“I acquired the skills it takes to meet face to face with people and make monetary requests while still making it personal,” Mary said. “I thought Thomas did an incredible job sharing his personal success story and representing SOMO.”

It was a proud moment for mother, Heather, too.

Mary and Thomas meet with Rep. Vicky Hartzler

Mary and Thomas meet with Rep. Vicky Hartzler

“Thomas and Mary did an excellent job,” Heather said. “I was so proud of how they shared their stories, fielded questions and handled a very busy and long day with lots of walking.

“(It was great to see) how responsive everyone was to Thomas and Mary’s stories. It was amazing to see my children making a difference at this level for Special Olympics.

“I will cherish the memories of seeing my kids making a difference, making great new friends and developing skills that will help them in other areas of their lives.”
It’s nice to have someone involved in the program to lobby on Special Olympics’ behalf, but it’s even better when the family tasked with this project lives and breathes what the organization stands for day in and day out.

Mary first got involved with Special Olympics when Thomas took part in SOMO’s first Young Athletes Program more than 10 years ago. Since that day, Mary has been more than just a sister to Thomas, but she’s been a friend, coach, Unified Partner and mentor.
Heather said before Mary’s involvement in SOMO, brother and sister didn’t really get along, but since she became a Unified Partner and coach for Thomas in volleyball, both of their attitudes have changed and they appreciate each other more.

From right, Heather, Mary and Thomas Cleek pose for a photo with Sen. Roy Blunt and Special Olympics Chairman of the Board Tim Shriver

From right, Heather, Mary and Thomas Cleek pose for a photo with Sen. Roy Blunt and Special Olympics Chairman of the Board Tim Shriver

“Special Olympics means so much to me,” Heather said. “I see lifelong friendships for my kids and me. I see a happy, healthy life for Thomas doing what he loves most – sports! I see a career for Mary that will bring her great happiness and satisfaction.”

Mary said her family’s experience showed her how SOMO is more than just sports.
“It’s truly a family,” Mary said. “The love, support and genuine joy within Special Olympics is by far the greatest of any group I’ve been a part of.”

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.