Guest post: Father lauds Special Olympics, Team Missouri for sons’ health improvements

Ed. note: This article was written by Paul Burnett, Sr., whose twin sons Paul, Jr., and John who will compete at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle on the softball team.


Paul (left) and John (right) have found their love for the game of softball. This photo is from the two of them during a competition in their first year with SOMO.

My sons, John and Paul Burnett, both 33, have been enjoying Special Olympics sports since 2010. During this time they have enjoyed bowling, bocce and tried their hands at basketball, but their first love has always been softball.

They have made life-long friends and grown a tremendous amount as athletes and as young men. Special Olympics Missouri means the world to them partly because they love sports and competing but also because they enjoy the company of their friends and having a good time.

A few years ago, the boys started having issues that doctors traced to their livers. It turned out that their A1C levels (the higher your A1C levels, the worse your blood sugar control/the more complications you’ll have from diabetes) started going up and, as a result, they were diagnosed with diabetes.

Their mother and I have been fighting to try to help them lose weight, eat right, (stay off the soda) and improve their overall health. The boys seemed at times to not take the issue seriously enough. They just wanted to go on like nothing was wrong or it was not that big of a deal. Then along came a chance to try out for Team Missouri in softball.

They have wanted to do this for a long time — to represent their state at the USA Games. We told them they had to work to earn it. Then that special evening came when Susan Shaffer announced that the boys made it. While their mother and I shed some tears, they just clapped, looked at each other and said it was time to go to work.


Paul pitches during the 2017 SONA NIT Softball Tournament in Bismarck, N.D.

They were given workout sheets by their coaches to get ready for Seattle. Amazingly mom and dad did not have to force them to work. They started working out hard five or six days a week rain or shine.

They started losing weight, and getting stronger and healthier. They had a complete physical in March where we found out they lost nearly 40 pounds between them. Their A1C levels came down to 5.1 and 5.3 but the greatest thing, their livers started to function normally for the first time in almost 10 years. The doctor said they’re doing so well they may be able to stop taking their medication before they leave for Seattle!

All of this has taken place in the last four months since Team Missouri unveiled its MO Magic Bucks program. (Ed. Note:  This program is a point-based system that allows Team Missouri delegates to earn points for eating/drinking right, exercising, sharing their progress with friends and more. The cumulative total of points can be used to purchase items such as a FitBit, a water bottle/smoothie blender, exercise equipment and more.)


John hits a line drive for a base hit during the 2017 SONA NIT Softball Tournament in Bismarck, N.D.

Their mother and I cannot thank Special Olympics Missouri enough for this. As most parents know, children do not always like to listen to us parents (apparently we do not know what we’re talking about). It took something that they really wanted, to light a fire under them. They talk about going to Seattle to represent Missouri with their friends and bring back gold medals, all the time.

As parents, SOMO has been a great adventure, not only with our children but the friends we have made. We talk to other parents that go through the same things and we can lean on each other. From the very first time we went to a Special Olympic event in 2010 we knew we found our second home.

Thank you, SOMO!

Exercise MO Magic bucks_fill in own total

Here is what our MO Magic bucks look like that we’re giving out to our Team Missouri athletes for training and eating right. They can then cash them in for prizes. It has the picture of our HOD Susan Shaffer on it, which our athletes certainly got a kick out of when we unveiled them.


Recapping the 2018 State Indoor Games

I have to admit, as the PR Assistant for Team Missouri, I had some ideas on what to expect for the State Indoor Games March 16-17 in St. Joseph.

For instance, I knew what I’d be filming, what shots to take during basketball and bowling, who to interview and the generic responses to our usual questions. I didn’t know I was out of my league, no pun intended. There were some responses that touched my heart.

I asked questions to athletes, coaches, Unified Partners (including a handful of those on Team Missouri attending the 2018 USA Games in Seattle later this summer), volunteers and even a parent or two. I enjoyed talking to all of them. They all surprised me at how uniquely they responded. It not only made my heart skip a beat, but also made me proud as an athlete and a representative for Missouri.


Team Missouri
One of the things I’ve learned about myself, several years ago, is that I love to learn, no matter the topic, subject or issue. My fellow athletes never disappoint in teaching me something new – whether it’s about their sport or something entirely different. Eight bowlers and ten basketball players, Unified Partners included, are going to Seattle to compete this summer in the 2018 USA Games.

Two of the bowlers on Team Missouri, Brandon Mynatt and Jeremiah Ellis, each won gold in their division at State Indoor Games; they worked hard for it too.

“Go slow, and focus on the pins,” Mynatt said.

Ellis said, “Watch for the other lanes first, then stretching, then try bowling straight,”

Thanks for the advice, Team Missouri athletes!

I even managed to interview the coach of the Team Missouri basketball squad, Kris Clark. He said the team does practice as much as it can, but scheduling is difficult.

“Competitions are definitely the best practice time for us,” Clark said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll get there for sure.”

Mynatt and Ellis both took home gold in their respective divisions and the Team Missouri basketball squad also took home first place.

Athletes prove to everyone that they can achieve anything with hard work and determination. The one thing I’ve noticed in my fellow athletes is their drive to achieve whatever they put their mind to, even when they don’t win the medal they hoped to.

As Tyler Hannegan, a basketball athlete for six years, said, “I didn’t make (Team Missouri), but I’m gonna try again in another four years.”

Chris Mounts plays basketball for Jefferson City and his team won the bronze medal at State Indoor Games. While he and his team wanted gold, he still held his head high following the game.

“Sometimes we lose,” Mounts said. “We’ll do better next time.”

Nothing is impossible, fellow athletes. Don’t give up just yet. Keep that hope and faith, and also don’t forget to listen to your coaches. They help improve your skills.

The coaches and parents are always so proud of us athletes. When I attended the basketball venues, I made certain to talk to the coaches and parents. I’ve learned they love to talk, especially when their child is competing.

I did find two things in common, in fact: whether they won or lost either of the two games, everyone had fun and played their hardest. Coach Jim Rash of the Trenton basketball team provided great feedback on this.

“We were playing against boys all day long,” he said, “We have two girls on our team, but they fought hard. They played the best two games they ever played, so I can’t complain.”

I think one of my favorite moments, which I can’t remember if I captured it on camera or not, was during a basketball game.

An athlete fell to the ground after a play. The referees blew the play dead. The timer stopped.

After that, though, an athlete of the opposing team stood close, held out a hand, and helped him stand. I love sportsmanship, no matter what organization or sport it is.

Any good non-profit needs volunteers to keep it running. That’s why we’re always asking and always looking for help at our competitions across the state. The number of volunteers increases every year for Special Olympics Missouri. The awareness it brings to our intellectual disabilities is a plus.

“(Some) don’t really need help,” said Duane Richardson, a first-time volunteer. “They’re self-sufficient. They’re able to do what they need to do. Only thing I need to do is occasionally reset the lane when we have a malfunction. Everything else they’re completely capable of doing everything on their own.”

I did see quite a few athletes on Saturday who needed the steel ramp to aim and bowl. They needed a volunteer to help move it. Even then, their confidence is still high, being supported by the volunteer.

I am sometimes surprised when I come across a volunteer who is helping out for the first time, such as Ariel Hall, a sophomore track and field athlete. I asked why she chose Special Olympics and specifically why this event.

“For Benton (High School) Track, we were deciding to do more with the community, so we decided to help Special Olympics,” Hall said. “It’s been really fun. The people are really nice and they’re really good at bowling.”

I imagine she and her friends learned something new that day and vice versa with the athletes she met.

Games Management Team
Like I said before, I love to learn, and when I learn something, I want to pass that knowledge to even more people. To put on a state competition, key volunteers and staff members work together as a Games Management Team. For months leading up to the event, they plan every detail.

When asking Lindsey Bernard, chairwoman of the State Indoor Games GMT, I realized the team did so much to ensure the event was successful.

“We have a committee of about thirty people that work to make sure that we’re prepared for the Games to come to St. Joseph: Sponsorships, work with facilities, hotels, meals… everyone works to make sure that once the athletes arrive, we’re ready to go.”

Every State Games is a huge boost to its hosting city’s economy.

“We wanted the State Indoor Games to come back to St. Joseph because it’s a huge impact on our city; it’s almost $1 million for a one-year event.”

Athletes may pay a fee to attend State Games, but there are a lot of costs that SOMO pays to put on the Games. They pay for our hotel rooms, our lunches, entertainment, events and even the gas for their vehicles. To know all of this now makes me feel even more appreciative and grateful for the organization.

Last but not least, we have the parents. Yes, Special Olympics needs staff, volunteers, athletes and hosts to function, but the parents are the cheerleaders we need. In return, the athletes teach their parents about the important things. Special Olympics would not be so well-known, without caring parents.

When it comes to parents, they love to brag and embarrass their children – my own mother included.

I asked Dale Kriete, father of basketball athlete Deanne Kriete, if she has changed since she joined SOMO. He said, “Oh yeah, she’s more outgoing now than she ever was. It’s a good thing for her.” As a result of her involvement in Special Olympics, her social skills have improved.

What fascinates me is the bond between the athletes and their parents.

“She teaches me how to be a good sport like she is,” Kriete said. “I always enjoy coming to the games and everything. It’s kind of a thing between me and my daughter to do. It’s always enjoyable.”

Guest post: Athlete-leader Lynna Hodgson explains her love of SO

My name is Lynna Hodgson. I’m a Special Olympics Missouri athlete. My whole family is involved with Special Olympics. I have two brothers who are also athletes. The younger brother is involved in Special Olympics in his high school. I recruited my uncle to be in Special Olympics. My other brother, my uncle and I are involved in Lee’s Summit Adults team.

My dad is a 3-on-3 basketball coach and my mom is a big supporter! We’ve been with Lee’s Summit for six years. Before we got involved in Special Olympics, we were “couch potatoes,” that is what my mom called us, those were her own words. She was exactly right! All we did was watch TV, play video games, eat and just sit and be lazy. Now we have weekly practices, we go to tournaments and we travel to different cities in Missouri. We both are going to the 2018 USA Games in July. I never imagined I would get the chance to go in my lifetime.


Lynna (middle) poses for a photo with her father, Rand (left) and her brother, Jesse (right)

Special Olympics has changed our lives for the better! We both are more social, more active and we are both aware of other people with disabilities. Jesse and I were always aware, but since we got involved in Special Olympics, we are more aware of people who have disabilities. We always look forward to practices, and seeing our friends; anything that involves Special Olympics, we love it.

Special Olympics has given us a happier and healthier life. We both are very thankful to Special Olympics. They have given us hope, laughter, friends, independence and a place where we can call home. We are very proud to be athletes of Special Olympics Missouri.

If we didn’t get involved in Special Olympics I think we would be very unhealthy. Special Olympics is really good for my health because I have asthma and allergies. It’s also good for our depression; it helps us to be less depressed. So this is really good for me and my brother. I’m so grateful and honored to be in this great organization.


Lynna and her brother, Jesse, are excited to on Team Missouri for the 2018 USA Games in Seattle. They are both on the track and field team and have been training hard to be the best athletes they can be for the competition.


West County Special Olympics and Marquette High School Hooping it up, building friendships, and putting on a show

Mark Bussen HOF

This story was written by SOMO Hall of Fame member Mark Bussen. Bussen, a longtime coach and volunteer, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 for his coaching with West County in St. Louis, tireless fundraising and dedication and connection to the athletes of Special Olympics Missouri. Bussen witnessed this story firsthand and was inspired to share it with us.

The Marquette High School Mustangs and the West County Special Olympic
basketball team have developed a “Special” bond together. For many years,
the Marquette Mustang’s Varsity basketball team has hosted us for a New Years
Clinic in early January, followed up by hosting us to play an exhibition game before their Varsity takes the floor for one of their league games in February.

This year, the clinic was held on January 13th. The Marquette players and coaches
gave up their Saturday morning to host us in a fun, fast paced, but relaxed atmosphere where we got to interact alongside their players. Their players and ours, mingle together in fun drills and games, all the while building friendships and raising awareness of the talents of both teams. The clinic was followed up with a pizza party luncheon compliments of Marquette, and each one of our players was presented with a “Mustang Made” tee shirt that our athletes wear with pride.

On February 9th, Marquette played Seckman High School, but the real show began before their game as the West County Special Olympic team took the floor before
a big, boisterous crowd. Prior to our game, each player was introduced to a thunderous starting lineup ovation. The crowd really gets into it, which revs up our players, spurring them on to maximum excitement and elevated levels of play.

West County’s Scott Carron, also a Marquette alumni, is an extra favorite of the Marquette team. As Scott received a pass, the Marquette players shouted in unison for Scott to shoot a long three pointer. Scott buried the three pointer, and immediately ran off the court into the arms of the Marquette players. The crowd and players all went crazy. A Marquette coach said “I knew Scotty wouldn’t let us down”!

There is more to it than just making a long shot. Scott developed a friendship with
former Marquette star player, Chris Lenzen. Chris tragically lost his life in an automobile accident several years ago. Marquette presented Scott with Chris’s #22 jersey, and said they knew no one would be more honored to wear it than Scott, and I will promise you that is correct! After Scott made his shot, he pointed to the heavens, and I know Chris was smiling back at us. The Lenzen family has been a major donor to the Training for Life Campus, and the basketball court will be named in Chris’s honor. On top of the wonderful experience for all involved, Marquette also donated $1,900 to Special Olympics Missouri that night.

I swear they should make a movie about these kids, you can’t make this stuff up.
“Magic” just happens, and touching lives is what we do!

Guest post: Responsibilities of Athlete-Leader PR Assistant

This guest blog post is from 2018 Team Missouri athlete-leader Allison D’Agostino (public relations assistant). It was originally written on her personal blog and re-posted here with her permission. It has been edited by SOMO for content and length.

To make sure I know what to do when we reach Seattle, Brandon and Harrison give me goals and little missions to do. I wholeheartedly don’t mind. This gives me something to do. This actually forces me to control my internet-watching intake, which is a huge amount of time.

For the deadline, which happened to be January 15th, I had to complete five videos, as well as the Team Missouri Spotlight Interviews scheduled posts for February. I love Columbia Access TV in this situation, not to mention my oldest sister. She managed to give me a Mac thumb drive in my Christmas stocking. I was able to format it and use it for some of the footage I received. They needed fixes for the lighting. (My editing software does have some effects that help with lighting. I did not realize this until I fiddled with it last night.)

Three of five videos were Spotlight interviews. One of those happened to be of me. How fortunate I am! I can keep in the bit where I praise Brandon. ^_^ Hopefully, when I send in the videos and this blog, he won’t take out that bit. The unfortunate thing is he has one photo I can’t insert. I find it weird, though, considering it’s used in every USA Games video that gets uploaded to YouTube.

The remaining videos are of athletes training, doing water bottle flips, and poetry reading. I don’t know how I’m going to incorporate the water bottle footage into the training, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

Ed note: Keep an eye on our YouTube channel and Facebook page over the next few weeks for when we post the videos Allison worked so hard on.

Guest post: Athlete-leader Allison D’Agostino makes Team Missouri!

This guest blog post is from 2018 Team Missouri athlete-leader Allison D’Agostino (public relations assistant). It is posted here mostly as it was originally written on her personal blog and re-posted here with her permission.

D'Agostino, Allison_StaffDuring August or September, my mom and I did a road trip to Connecticut, New York, and then St. Louis. My second sister’s second travel for her travel nursing position chose a quaint city on the east coast, coincidentally near the ocean. (I managed to swim in the Atlantic Ocean for at least half an hour, almost got used to the cold water, and swam like a mermaid. Mermaid dream almost complete!)

Before the road trip, I found out from the central PR team of Special Olympics Missouri that a position opened up. And it’s for an athlete only. YES! I applied immediately, despite the fact I might have to do an interview during the road trip.

There were two rounds of the application process. I managed to get through both. Seeing as I knew some of the people in this interview, which happened the day I returned from the trip, I had a good feeling about it. (I did, however, learn that one of my athlete friends applied as well.) I don’t remember all the details, but I believe that towards the end of the interview, I was asked how I would feel of taking the position. Basically, they were saying, “Congratulations. You have the job.”

I got the job! 😄 Ever since then, I’ve been assigned a few things to do. I made sure to step up when it seemed like the PR team needed help. A family meeting occurred for all the athletes, coaches, Unified Partners, and staff that made it to Team Missouri for the USA Games 2018. Not only did I help the PR team with whatever they needed, I also had to attend a few things required for athletes. The same thing happened last week when we had a training weekend.

I still hesitate at times, on whether I should be doing something, or confused, or even just speaking my thoughts. I guess I still have some of that shyness when I first entered Special Olympics a little over ten years ago. At least I’m being brave in the attempt of this difficult, overwhelming, amazing position. I somewhat look forward to all the other challenges ahead. Since I am the first athlete to do this, either in Missouri or USA, I intend to make the first footsteps for those to follow.

Guest post: Dec. 8-9 Team Missouri training

This guest blog post is from 2018 Team Missouri athlete Lynna Hodgson (track and field). It is posted here exactly as it was originally written on her personal blog and re-posted here with her permission.

On Friday my dad picked up TJ (Power Lifting athlete) we carpooled to team meeting, when Dad came back from picking up TJ, jesse and I load our suitcases and we were on our way to Jefferson City! We only made one stop. Once we got to the hotel, we checked in, they checked our weight and wanted to see our picture ID. Once we got done with that process we found out our room and went into a room where the rest of Team MO  were, had pizza for dinner, while we had dinner we watched everyone’s interview and then we had input counsel. I went to bed around 9pm.

On Saturday  woke up at 6:30am, packed up and made sure I got everything and didn’t leave anything. Went for breakfast. We had scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage links and biscuits and gravy. After breakfast everyone loaded up and went to a middle school, we all met there, and we congratulate everyone on their fundraiser efforts, and after that talk we went to the gym (track and field) we jogged around the gym four times. Fast walked a couple of times. Did stretches, practiced shot put and softball throw. Ate lunch, went outside and went on a walk. It was cold..brrrr…thank goodness I brought my heavy coat, and I’m so glad I did!! Came back inside and did some activities. Such as team building, interviews, healthy eating and trying on uniforms. TJ’s Mom picked us up and we were on our way home. Got home around 7pm. I learned so much this past weekend: new stretches, met some new people on the team, and found out if we fill out our training logs every time we train and we turn it in the next meeting we will get some MO bucks!! Come on team Track & Field, we can do it!! Go team MO!!

TJ (team MO athlete power lifting) and I
Celebrated Allison’s 29th Birthday🎈🎁🎂
Coach Michelle and I
Team MO athlete Allen (softball) and I