2019 LETR John Michael Letz Award

The John Michael Letz Award is the highest honor given within the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award. The first recipient of this award was Ralph Biele who was instrumental in starting Missouri’s Torch Run more than 30 years ago.

Previous recipients:

  • Ralph Biele
  • Rich Banahan
  • John Cira
  • Mary Branstetter
  • Randy Boehm
  • David Pudlowski
  • Janelle Waterman
  • Graham Burnley
  • Jim Moran
  • Jim McCart
  • Zim Schwartze
  • Tim Goebel
  • Randy Werner
  • Rick Hayes
  • Don Spears
  • Jim McNiell
  • Joseph Chapman
  • Jeff Cook
  • Mark Koeller
  • Mark Wieseman
  • Jeff Fugett
  • Steve Davis
  • Amanda Geno
  • Mary Wheeler
  • Lynn McClamroch

The criteria for recipients include being responsible for significant fundraising results and participating in year-round support; exemplifying the Special Olympics mission and being a visionary for the Torch Run. The winner of this award is someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes and who shows sustained commitment over a period of time.

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. We don’t know them because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are usually in the background working to do more.

About this year’s recipient:

  • Involved in the Torch Run for 13 years
  • Is involved in fundraising in both local and statewide fundraising events
  • Since becoming the agency coordinator for their department in 2009, the agency has raised $173,915
  • Has volunteered to hand out medals at both local and state events
  • Serves on the local Polar Plunge committee and has been instrumental in growing this event to where it is today
  • Attends the International LETR Conference whenever possible and brings back new ideas to implement at their agency
  • Serves on the LETR committee as the assistant region coordinator for their region
  • Serves on the “Crew” at all state events – doing whatever is needed to ensure everything goes well for the athletes
  • Has shared their passion for SOMO with their family – including their son who volunteers and serves as a Unified Partner for the local team in their city
  • In the words of his nominator “This nominee generously gives his time and takes great pride in the events he organizes, and has a strong dedication to the mission of SOMO.”
  • This nominee recently stepped out of his comfort zone and represented MO in the Final Leg for the World Summer Games

The 2019 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Mark Priebe – Springfield Police Dept.

Mark Priebe

Mark Priebe, right, carries the Flame of Hope during the Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run before the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.

Challenge Days at the TLC

Editor’s note: This Challenge Day took place May 10, 2019. Less than two weeks later on May 22, an EF3 tornado tore through Jefferson City, destroying our athletic field and damaging the roof and most interior spaces at the Training for Life Campus. The campus is closed for extensive repairs which are expected to be completed in May 2020. Visit somocampus.org for updates on the #SOMORebuild.

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On May 10, students from Delmar Cobble State School, Dogwood State School and Kirchner State School attended a Challenge Day held at the Special Olympics Missouri Training for Life Campus.

Challenge Days are a one-day event that have been designed specifically for people with severe and profound disabilities, who are often not able to compete in a rigorous sport program. Due to the need to offer more activities to this population, it has been a goal of Special Olympics Missouri to expand on their motor skills programs, including offering more events such as Challenge Days.

Special Olympics Missouri has planned Challenge Days at these schools for decades, but this was the first such event to take place at the new Training for Life Campus.

“The state school is for students with severely-handicapped needs,” said Shelly Stumbaugh, a teacher at Kirchner State School. “The Challenge Day is bringing different schools together and having the kids do their best, try different sports and have fun. We do a Challenge Day once a year with Special Olympics Missouri.”

Challenge Days consist of various activities in which participants take part either as an individual or on a team. Each participant is given the opportunity to play sports such as basketball, volleyball, T-ball, wheelchair races, bowling and bocce.

Special Olympics Missouri staff felt that there was a need when it came to providing services for individuals with severe disabilities. Challenge Days are designed specifically for this population so that they too can experience the joy of being an athlete.

“We try to be involved with them and they help us out,” Stumbaugh said. “They donate different things for us, they provide awards for the kids and T-shirts if possible. It’s just a great way to show the community the kids that have special needs and what they can do.”

While many individuals with intellectual and physical challenges can compete and excel in sports, many with severe disabilities miss out on the athletic experience because organizations and society as a whole haven’t prioritized their needs.

“Delmar Cobble has been involved with Challenge Day for about 30-some-odd years,” said Donna Davis, a teacher at Delmar Cobble State School. “I remember when we would do Challenge Day, … We would pick the kids up on Saturday morning and we would transport them to the stadium where they could participate in Special Olympics. But probably due to funding, we stopped that and then Special Olympics came to the school and then we called it Challenge Day.”

Mona Purvis, a family member of a Challenge Day participant, said, “(Susan Shaffer, Special Olympics Missouri’s Outreach Director) came to our school and we just held it one day where we had games. We didn’t get to travel but we always still had a Special Olympics day and they have since (my son has) been attending there back in 2006.”

Davis said, “So now that the physical abilities of the students have changed over the years, the activities have changed to … more activities that will allow them to participate at their level. Maybe not physically, but through fine motor skills.”

All activities are modified to meet their individual needs. For example, in bocce and bowling, a ramp is used to assist athletes when rolling the ball. These athletes are given the opportunity to experience the joy of sport.

With the opening of the Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City in September 2018, Special Olympics Missouri has been able to provide more services and resources, and host more programs for people with intellectual disabilities, such as Challenge Days. This facility is the first of its kind in the world, with the purpose of enriching the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities through sport, health and leadership opportunities. It was built to inspire a new drive in our athletes so that they may continue to develop their physical and social skills.

“In the past, Challenge Day has been at our school or at a park, and now we have the chance to come to this new facility and it’s just great because you’ve got a track, you’ve got the turf, you’ve got different things going on inside,” Stumbaugh said. “It’s just a fun time for the kids and a way for the community to see what we have here in Jeff City.”

Davis said that it was great for the parents to see the Training for Life Campus and all the activities their children got to participate in. She is hopeful that this will encourage the parents to get their kids involved in Special Olympics Missouri’s program.

“A lot of our kids don’t get involved in Special Olympics outside the school setting and so this may help some of the parents realize that, ‘Hey, there’s Special Olympics and my child can be involved in it and on their level and they’ve got this great facility to where my child can go and meet other individuals and participate in physical activities’.”

Through Challenge Days, all children, their families and people in the community can be a part of building an inclusive team together.

“Students with severely handicap needs are just like anyone else,” Stumbaugh said. “I mean they are people even though they may not communicate, they are very smart, they have feelings, they laugh, they cry just like everyone else.

“Just reach out and acknowledge that they are there. Talk to them and actually see what they can do. You’d be surprised.”

Inclusion Revolution: Building Friendships One Game at a Time

On Wednesday, October 2, 2019, Joplin High School hosted the first annual Inclusion Revolution. More than 200 children and adults with intellectual disabilities from Joplin, Lamar, and Stockton joined approximately 250 Joplin High School students for a day of inclusive activities.

The Inclusion Revolution was a collaboration between Special Olympics Missouri and Joplin High School. Joplin High School committee members included Nick Reid and Julie McCain (Special Education/Peer Buddies), Matt Hiatt (Athletic Director), Jason Barchak (School Resource Officer/Joplin PD), Dr. Stephen Gilbreth (Principal) and SOMO SW Area Program Manager, Jana Fornelli. Joplin High School had expressed interest in hosting an event at their school. Our goal was not only to have a fun event for our Special Olympics athletes; we really wanted to promote inclusiveness. It seemed fitting for an inclusive event since they have a strong Peer Buddy program at their school. As we met to discuss the event, it fell into place to host the event in October during National Bullying Prevention Month and it was Joplin High School Homecoming Week.

The morning began with a Pep Rally with performances from Joplin High School Cheerleader and Dance Teams and messages from Dr. Gilbreth, Joplin HS Principal and Chief Stewart, Joplin Police Department. Special Olympics athletes and their buddies rotated stations playing games, dancing, popcorn, sno-cones, face painting and fun. Participants took the pledge to Choose to Include by signing the banner. Sports stations included flag football, bocce, kickball, softball home run derby, cheerleading/dance, and pickle ball. Bocce was a sport that many of our athletes have played but not many of the High School students had played so it was fun to see the athletes share their knowledge.

The event was such a huge success and the committee is already working on the event for next year. It was a great opportunity to see inclusion in action. Participants were able to find that they had more things in common, than they thought. This can go a long way to learning that difference is just a normal part of life.

At the end of the day, the Joplin Basketball coach wanted to know how to get more involved. The Joplin High School basketball teams are now planning a basketball clinic for Special Olympics athletes. It is amazing to realize how one event can affect so many people and further the inclusion revolution movement.

SOMO partners with Mizzou, MU Health Care, UM System

DSC_9877.jpgCOLUMBIA, Mo. — On Nov. 6, Special Olympics Missouri announced a major statewide partnership with the University of Missouri, MU Health Care and the University of Missouri System.

“We are thrilled to begin this partnership,” said Susan Stegeman, president and CEO of Special Olympics Missouri. “We have barely scratched the surface in terms of how we can combine our resources in order to impact lives across the state. From volunteer engagement and internships to education opportunities and health and wellness services for our athletes, this partnership is truly a win-win.”

The partnership was announced on the heels of news that Special Olympics Missouri will hold its State Summer Games in Columbia in 2020 after hosting the games in Springfield for the previous three years. The new relationship will allow Special Olympics Missouri to tap into the statewide reach of MU, MU Health Care and the UM System.

The news was shared at the aquatic mezzanine inside the MU Recreation Complex, where SOMO athletes have competed previously and will continue to do so in the future. The partnership could include collaboration across the universities in areas such as business, medicine, education, social work, and human development and family science.

“We are honored to partner with Special Olympics Missouri, a collaboration that will provide our community with more opportunities to interact with this esteemed organization that is important to so many Missouri athletes and their families,” MU Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright said. “Celebrating the achievements of all people, including those with intellectual disabilities, is central to our core values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence. Furthermore, the breadth of Mizzou’s enterprise, from our scholarship to spirit of service, will bolster the success of this partnership.”

MU, as well as the UM System’s University of Missouri-Kansas City, Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, already have deep ties to Special Olympics Missouri. For example, this fall marks the sixth semester that Special Olympics Missouri has consulted with the Novak Leadership Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism at MU. The College of Optometry at UMSL has provided vision screening and eyeglasses, sunglasses or sport goggles to SOMO participants. UM System organizations, particularly fraternities and sororities, have raised thousands for the organization over the years. Earlier this year, when a tornado tore through Jefferson City and damaged the state’s headquarters office and brand new Training for Life Campus, members of the baseball, wrestling and women’s basketball teams assisted with cleanup.

Jon Sundvold, chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, said the partnership dovetails with the university’s mission.

“The core mission of the university is education, and this partnership will add opportunities to extend those education possibilities,” said Sundvold, who also is president of the Missouri Junior Golf Foundation, which operates the first nine-hole course in the country especially designed to meet the unique needs of children and individuals with disabilities. “At the same time, this partnership will allow us to serve the people of this state, which we endeavor to do in all our activities.”

By partnering with the UM System, organizers hope to leverage the reach of the UM System to support Special Olympics Missouri in a multitude of ways.

“With campuses located in Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis, the University of Missouri System is uniquely positioned to support the statewide reach of Special Olympics Missouri,” UM System President Mun Choi said. “I am excited to see where this partnership will lead.”

Brian Neuner, chief development and marketing officer for Special Olympics Missouri, said the collaboration could include a variety of direct engagements, such as giving business students experience working with a non-profit; providing athletes with fitness and wellness programs administered by health science students; or providing a platform for journalism students to tell engaging stories about athletes, coaches, families and volunteers.

“I view this partnership as one punctuated with possibility,” Neuner said. “There are so many volunteer opportunities at Special Olympics Missouri, and I’m excited to see the University of Missouri System answer this call for support. It is personally gratifying to see two organizations I love work together in support of individuals with intellectual disabilities. As a graduate of the University of Missouri, I have never been more proud of my alma mater.”

Special Olympics is one of the world’s largest sports organizations with nearly 5 million athletes in more than 172 countries. In Missouri, the organization serves 16,400 athletes competing in 16 sports, has 30,000 volunteers and 1,100 coaches. The organization aims to engage youth and adults with intellectual disabilities in activities designed to build community, increase confidence, improve health and teach them how to live independently.

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Drive it Home Raffle: Meet the Finalists!

DSC_6697 (Copy)The Drive It Home Raffle is a statewide promotion that directly benefits more than 16,000 Special Olympics Missouri athletes across the state. We are honored to work with our statewide partners to make this event a success: Missouri Automobile Dealers Association and Law Enforcement Torch Run.

IT’S A JEEP THING!  We are excited to share that Missouri Automobile Dealers Association has generously donated a 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4×4 for our Drive it Home Raffle this year.

Update: The Grand Prize Drawing took place on Oct. 19. Kevin McClellan was the winner of the 2019 Jeep Wrangler! 

Here are the finalists:

CENTRAL AREA
Don Bernskoetter purchased four tickets from Raffle partner CMR Masonry. Don enjoys being and working on their family farm. His wife, Georgene often volunteers in the community and they look forward to attending the giveaway event. If they win the Jeep, they plan to enjoy driving it for a while and may sell it and donate the proceeds back to Special Olympics Missouri. Truly generous! Ticket #: 026856

NORTH AREA
John Mutz purchased 50 tickets from SOMO staff member Melody Prawitz at the East Hills Mall. In college he knew someone who was connected to Special Olympics, so he would join them for local events. If he wins the Jeep, he plans to take a road trip to visit people in other states that he has not seen for a while; after all that is what a Jeep owner does! Ticket #: 067650

SOUTHEAST AREA
Jimmy Andrews purchased 10 tickets from Candi Quaite, who also happens to be his wife’s mom. Jimmy is connected to Special Olympics through Candi and likes to volunteer to support her work. One of their vehicles recently broke down so he is excited about this awesome opportunity to replace that vehicle. If he wins the Jeep, he will give it to his wife to drive. Ticket #: 086084

SOUTHWEST AREA
Kevin McClellan and his wife, Debbie, have been connected to Special Olympics Missouri for several years. They participate in the Joplin Truck Convoy and are close friends with Robin Anderson, SOMO staff member. They enjoy traveling and supporting SOMO as well as other charitable causes. They purchased 120 tickets from Robin the week before the deadline! If they win the Jeep, they will tow it behind their motor home! Ticket #: 082551

KANSAS CITY AREA
Candace Cervantes purchased two tickets from Laura Thomas of Riverside Police Department at Riverside’s Loud and Local event. She is a nurse practitioner and tries to give back to the community as often as she can. She is excited about being an area finalist and looks forward to learning more about Special Olympics. If she wins the Jeep, she MAY give it to her 16-year-old! Ticket #: 023541

ST. LOUIS AREA
Cynthia Bradshaw purchased two tickets at Chimi’s Restaurant Tip-A-Cop in Overland. Her and her husband frequent the restaurant. She volunteers in the community and hopes to do more with Special Olympics Missouri in the future. When asked what she would do if she won the Jeep, her response was: “Drive it.” Ticket #: 044648

Sue Schwoeppe purchased eight tickets from one of our Raffle Partners, Treloar Bar and Grill. Her sister owns the business. Being selected as a finalist surprised her, since she does not win things very often. She volunteers in the community and is looking forward to learning more about Special Olympics Missouri. As Jeep fans, they currently own one, so a new Jeep Wrangler will be a nice addition to the family. Ticket #: 037767

Laura Speed Elliott Middle School students raise money for Special Olympics through coin wars

On May 22, an EF3 tornado tore through Jefferson City, destroying our athletic field and damaging the roof and most interior spaces at the Training for Life Campus.

Due to the extensive damage, the students and staff at Laura Speed Elliott Middle School in Boonville participated in a Coin War to raise money for Special Olympics Missouri.

 During the Coin War, six SOMO athletes were invited to come and share their talents. Laura Speed Elliott Middle School enjoyed watching the athletes and learning more about this great organization. The students and staff donated several coins and $1,068.52 (including two larger donations from W-K Boonville and Equipment Share) was raised to be donated to help SOMO rebuild. Students celebrated with an assembly including a bid check presentation with SOMO staff members and a speech from SOMO athlete and Hall of Famer, Robb Eichelberger.

robb at coin wars

Below is a Q&A with the school’s principal, Leslie Reardon, a teacher at the school, Laurie Painter, and student, Maggie Schuster.

Why did you all chose to do this fundraiser?

Principal Reardon (PR): I was listening to Clear99 when they did their radioathon for Jeff city and its victims. I was able to listen to a lady share about the new building and the damage done to it. We had wanted our students to give back with a project during summer school and this looked like a great fit.

What did the fundraiser consist of/how did it work?

Maggie (MS): It was a coin war. The coins are positive and bills are negative. We brought in coins and had bins with teacher’s names on them.  You put your coins in the teacher’s bin who you wanted to get a pie in the face.

Ms. Painter (MP): The way I won: The teacher with the most money at the end of the 3 days would get a pie in the face.  Obviously, the students loved me (or wanted to see me get a pie in the face) and put almost $200 in my bucket.  I then got, not one but two pies in the face.  It was so much fun!!!

Why did you/the students pick SOMO? 

PR: We have several staff who volunteer with Special Olympics, as well as staff and students who work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. I knew this would be a cause everyone would rally for.

What does it mean to the students? 

PR: The students loved it. We had 6 adults who participate in Special Olympics come share and show their talents. The students cheered them on and that gave us goosebumps hearing our students cheer the 6 adults with disabilities on. The students got so fired up, the money kept coming in on Thursday even though the Coin War was over Wednesday.

MS: It made us happy and thankful that we were able to help out.  We like to be helpful when we can help out with things like this.

What did the students learn about SOMO through this process? 

PR: Besides having the six athletes visit, we had coaches share about their experience. We also had Robb Eichelberger talk about being a Hall of Famer and the students watched several video clips shared with us by SOMO staff member Crystal Schuster.

MS: Yes, we learned that there are more than 16,000 athletes in Special Olympics Missouri and we learned that Robb Eichelberger played a lot of different sports and he told us the things he does to prepare himself for events.

About how many students/teachers participated in this fundraiser?  

PR: We had 100 students and 15 staff members participate. Plus, we had two local business also contribute (W-K Boonville $200 and Equipment Share $350).

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Why is Special Olympics Special to you? 

MS: Because I enjoy seeing all the athletes working so hard to win and achieve all their goals that they have set.  It really puts a smile on my face when they are smiling and having fun while competing in the sports they love.  My friend, Jillian, competes and I have met many other friends in Special Olympics – like Sarah Byland, Robb Eichelberger, and Morgan.

MP: I chose to be part of the fundraiser because Special Olympics has always been important to me.  I was raised with an aunt that had down syndrome and I loved to spend time with her.  She was always so happy and loving.  She participated in Special Olympics when I was a kid and she absolutely loved it. Being part of the fundraiser meant a lot to me.  I really did it as an honor to my Aunt Carolyn that passed away a few years ago.  It brought back great memories of her.

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid Supports Special Olympics Missouri

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid has partnered with Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) to promote the statewide organization through a series of public service announcements.

“I believe in this organization and the positive work it does to help thousands of people across the state of Missouri,” said Reid. “The athletes’ dedication, effort and positive attitude are an inspiration to so many people, including me.”

The first installment of PSAs features five Special Olympics athletes along with Coach Reid explaining the impact of a tornado on SOMO’s Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City. In one version, Coach Reid calls on “Chiefs Kingdom and all Missourians” to find out how they can get involved in supporting the reconstruction of the campus by directing them to SOMOcampus.org.

“Coach Reid’s messages come at a crucial time as we begin to repair the damages from the tornado,” said SOMO President & CEO Susan Stegeman. “We appreciate his support as he helps bring awareness to our athletes and our program needs.”

There are radio and television versions available, as well as photos from the PSA taping. Media outlets across the state are encouraged to run it on their stations. Additional versions, with the overall focus on SOMO’s mission, will be available in the coming months. Coach Reid also taped direct messages for Special Olympics Missouri athletes, volunteers and coaches.