Making history: First ALPs University a success!

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For the first ALPs University, we had 17 athlete-leaders and 17 mentors in attendance.

For the first time, Special Olympics Missouri hosted an Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs) University Nov. 7-8 in Warrenton. ALPs (www.SOMO.org/ALPs) was designed to provide training for athletes who wish to expand their leadership role within Special Olympics Missouri.

Our athletes already learn how to achieve success, joy and acceptance on the field of competition, while ALPs will teach them how to achieve those same goals and feel just as empowered off the field of competition as respected leaders and spokespersons in their communities.

ALPs University is set up to function similar to any other college or university. Everyone will take an Introduction to ALPs class that gives our new athlete-leaders the basics on what leadership is and the class options that lie before them. Following Intro to ALPs, athlete-leaders will write a personal mission statement and choose a major depending on their interests. Majors vary from communications (public speaking) to technology (email/Internet, PowerPoint, etc.) to governance (boards and committees and Input Councils).

Future majors in the works will teach our athlete-leaders how to become coaches and officials, give them practice in teamwork and problem solving, show them how to write a resume and ace a job interview and so much more.

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From left, Joe Boss (mentor) and Clarence Bentley (athlete-leader) sit in the Governance: Input Councils class.

The goal of these courses and ALPs in general is to empower athletes so they can speak on behalf of SOMO as Global Messengers, serve as coaches and volunteers, sit on a board of directors, officiate competitions and represent other athletes as part of a SOMO Input Council. It’s all just one more way that Special Olympics Missouri is changing lives by giving our athlete-leaders the confidence to realize they do have things to offer their community.

Jefferson City athlete George Richardson is a communications major. After attending the first ALPs University Nov. 7-8, Richardson said his favorite part of the weekend was, “Going to my first class and learning to speak a lot clearer when giving a speech.” He also said he “enjoyed meeting other people.”

For some athletes, ALPs is about making new friends and learning leadership skills but for SOMO athlete and past SOMO board of directors member Robb Eichelberger from Boonville, it was about facing his fears. He chose the communications major to overcome his fear of public speaking.

Following ALPs, Eichelberger said, “I learned a lot about myself.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to write speeches and getting over my fear of public speaking.”

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Athlete-leaders and mentors work as SOMO Central Area Program Coordinator Megan Wallace watches on during the Technology: Email/Internet class.

His courage not only inspired other athletes but he inspired many staff members and mentors as well.

To take part in ALPs, each athlete-leader must have a mentor to assist them both during and after their classes.

Joe Boss, a mentor from Jefferson City said, “It was a wonderful experience.

“As a mentor the biggest thing I learned was how much the athletes wanted to talk and be themselves. I learned not to assume that the shyest of people wouldn’t come out of their shell. They got it right away and spoke more than I expected.”

At the conclusion of the weekend, each athlete-leader had the opportunity to voice their opinion at an Input Council. These Input Councils are a time where SOMO staff members can ask SOMO participants two simple questions, “What did you like?” and “What needs to be changed?”

For so long, staff members, coaches, family members and society in general have all just assumed what was best for our athletes. We never asked them their opinion on anything because we assumed they didn’t have much to share. The paradigm shift in this thinking has been happening – albeit slowly — for some time now as we’ve realized that not only do our athletes have opinions, but they have great ones to share from a much needed new perspective.

As far as training pubic speakers, SOMO has trained what we call “Global Messengers” for years. A Global Messenger is an athlete who goes through a training to learn to how to write and give speeches about their Special Olympics story. Through ALPs, these Global Messengers now have the opportunity to improve those skills by declaring a communications major and taking their public speaking to the next level through a second Global Messenger training that’s more intense and offers a wide range of speaking opportunities.

Derek Sandbothe of Jefferson City has been a trained Global Messenger for many years now and has been giving speeches all around mid-Missouri ever since. Sandbothe was able to attend the first ever ALPs University and, because of his prior speaking experience, advance directly into the Global Messenger II course.

“I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot,” Sandbothe said. “Jacob, my professor, was great and even helped me with my homework that night (at the hotel) which was awesome.

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From left, Lisa Gardner (mentor) and Joseph Niemeyer (athlete-leader) discuss what Special Olympics means to them during the Communications: Global Messenger I class.

“My favorite part of athlete leadership program was gaining leadership skill and learning how to give my speeches and how to shorten them. I learned a lot about speeches and how to approach different businesses and how to speak from the heart about how much Special Olympics means to me and what it has done for me over the years.”

At the end of each class, every athlete-leader has a practicum (homework) to complete before they can move on to the next class in their major. Depending on what class they took it could range from volunteering at their local SOMO office, to giving five speeches, to a series of technology-related tasks. It’s important that they have some kind of practical application for all of the lessons they just learned so it all stays fresh in their minds between classes.

The hope is that depending on schedules and personal preferences on what classes they take, each athlete-leader can graduate from ALPs University in two years (we offer two ALPs Universities per year). They are then free to come back and declare another major or even teach the very classes they were just sitting in. It’s all about getting them to realize their potential and give them plenty of opportunities to try new things and grow as people and leaders.

Special Olympics Missouri could not be more excited to offer this new leadership program to our athletes. We now not only believe that our athletes can be great leaders, but we are empowering them to do so! To learn more about the Athlete Leadership Program or how to become a mentor visit www.somo.org/alps.

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A huge thank-you goes out to the ALPs Management Team who made this all possible!

Player Profile: Richard Scott

Special Olympics has partnered with the University of Missouri and University of Arkansas to create our own Unified Rivalry series. The idea is that Special Olympics teams play each other just before the college rivalry games. SOMO will be playing a flag football game against Special Olympics Arkansas athletes on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 2 pm at the Walker Pavillion on the Arkansas campus. The team which raises the most money leading up to the game will earn a 3-point advantage. Help Missouri win by donating here!

Richard Scott DSCN0588What makes Richard Scott, a 34-year-old Lee’s Summit resident, an outstanding athlete? Maybe it is his incredible record that spans over two decades in sports such as bowling, bocce ball, flag football, tennis, golf, basketball and softball for Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO). Maybe it is his dedication and love for his teammates that makes him great. Whatever it is, there is no denying Scott is unstoppable and ready for any challenge.
Scott credits his parents for helping him get involved in one of the best commitments that has added so much more value to his life. Before getting involved with SOMO, Scott recalls not having any drive to even play outside as a kid. When he was eight years old, his parents encouraged him to participate in SOMO to create a fun, social and athletic outlet for his free time.

The first sport Scott participated in through SOMO was softball. Once he started softball, Scott explains, “I never stopped. I kept getting involved with others.” Evident by his incredible record, he has mastered several sports. Since getting involved with SOMO in 1989, Scott has gone on to place fifth in tennis at the 1999 World Games in Raleigh, North Carolina. More recently, he won the bronze medal at the 2010 National Games in Unified Golf, a team composed of individuals with and without intellectual disabilities.

Mark.Alan.Richard.friends w flairOver the years, he has accumulated more than awards; he has also gained many memories and experiences. His favorite part of being involved in Special Olympics Missouri is, “Getting to know teammates, meeting new players, spending time with younger kids, messing with the younger kids, and watching them in sports having a wonderful time.” He is looking forward to working with his teammates this Sunday for the Unified Rivalry flag football game against Special Olympics Arkansas.

Scott is extremely excited for the upcoming game against Arkansas. He is playing center for his flag football team and has been practicing very hard for the game. He just wants to “Get out there and win this thing!” Scott said, “We’ve just got to beat these guys for flag football! I look at the team, they look at me, and we know we have the plays and the strategy to beat them. I told them, we can always mix the plays up if they get confused.” Scott is confident in his team’s ability to beat Arkansas. He knows their practice and strategies have prepared the team for the big game.

richard s bocceScott has evolved since joining Special Olympics Missouri. He is not the same eight-year-old boy who did not want to play outside; he has become a proud athlete, role model and so much more. In addition to competing with SOMO, he is a loving brother, an involved uncle to a nephew and niece, and a hard worker at a Toys ‘R Us warehouse. Scott strives for excellence in all aspects of his life, not just sports. He works 52-60 hours a week and makes time for his other hobbies. When he is not working, spending time with his family, or playing sports, he is spending hours and even days on his artistic hobby, making artwork and framing them for loved ones. Scott says he even surprised his flag football coach with one that matched the colors of her house.

Richard Scott is undoubtedly a man of many talents and interests. He is considerate, hardworking and gives his best on and off of the field. Scott is a team-player, leader, and most importantly he is always ready to win!

Carl Junction teacher sees different side of students as Special Olympics coach

Ed. Note: These interviews, with the exception of Dr. Phil Cook, were done during the 2015 State Indoor Games at Fort Leonard Wood in March.

It’s no surprise that a sizable portion of Special Olympics Missouri coaches are also teachers at schools around the state. They already have the experience of breaking down complex ideas into teachable lessons and some even have the training of working with people with intellectual disabilities.

Those skills of understanding, communication and relatability are incredibly important for Special Olympics coaches to have.

One example of a teacher and SOMO coach who has these skills and has put them to work in her classroom and on the court is Kelly Blackford from Carl Junction High School in the Southwest Area.

In her seventh year of coaching SOMO — and her third with Carl Junction — Blackford, a special education teacher, said she appreciates being able to coach her own students.

“I teach life skills, adaptive skills and my athletes are also my students,” Blackford said. “I like having that outside-school environment where I get to mingle with them and do more social activities on a fun level than just being the teacher in the classroom.”

Blackford coaches bowling, basketball and track and field at Carl Junction H.S. with about 15 athletes doing all three sports. Not surprisingly, she said her favorite part about coaching isn’t about winning or losing, but watching them “just have a good time.”

“That spirit, that sportsmanship – that’s what we want to see – that’s what I want from my athletes,” she said. “I’m not worried about what color medal is around their neck as long as they’re being the best athlete that they can and as long as their sportsmanship to all the other athletes no matter whether they’re from our school district or other communities. That’s what I want to see and that’s what I love.

“That’s what brings me back every year.”

Blackford consistently has been a coach and teacher who goes above and beyond for her students and athletes, which has definitely been noticed by others as well.

“Kelly is an enthusiastic coach,” said SOMO’s Southwest Area Program Manager Stevie Lain. “She’s also a huge role model for a lot of our other area coaches.”

Blackford’s boss, Dr. Phil Cook, superintendent of Carl Junction School District, said he’s always been proud of its Special Olympics program, but it really went to “new heights” when Blackford took over.

“When Kelly arrived a few years ago she … expanded opportunities for our students and SOMO athletes,” Dr. Cook said. “Our athletes are competing in more sports than ever before and she has developed a Unified program that allows all students to compete alongside our Special Olympics athletes.”

Unified
The Unified Sports program isn’t just something new to Carl Junction schools, but to Special Olympics programs around the world.

Unified Sports (www.SOMO.org/UnifiedSports) is an inclusive program that allows athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete alongside and against athletes without intellectual disabilities. Athletes and Unified Partners compete alongside one another, each in a meaningful and integral role on the Unified Sports team.

SOMO offers 21 Olympic-type sports divisioned by age and ability for its athletes and each and every sport has the capability of being structured for Unified Sports. Sports bring people together and nowhere else is that more evident than in Unified Sports.

Blackford said she has an eighth-grade daughter who participates in their Unified Sports program and she plans on doing it all through high school.

“I like seeing that growth, but it also takes away that stigma,” she said. “Kids sometimes don’t want to participate (in Special Olympics sports) because they don’t want to be identified (as someone with an intellectual disability), but that Unified aspect takes that away.

“I’ve had some great seniors who have gotten involved and are very supportive and are just athletes with the rest of my (Special Olympics) players.”

Acceptance
One specific instance that shows just how much the school and the student body have bought into Special Olympics and its growing Unified Sports program is one of her athletes serves as the manager for the high school’s basketball team.

“He’s been allowed to practice with them, which is only going to improve his skill level and self-confidence,” Blackford said.

The high school team has even made it a point to attend some of the Special Olympics tournaments and cheer on their classmates.

The superintendent, coaches and students have all bought in.

“We have a new head boys’ basketball coach and he actually came to my practice and assisted ME… which was intimidating and incredible at the same time,” Blackford said.

Cook said, “Kelly has a real passion for Special Olympics and a true love for our athletes. I’m so glad Kelly is a bulldog.”

For those interested in becoming a Special Olympics coach, Blackford said it’s more competitive than people think and she loves that.

“Our athletes have a passion for their sport, just like ‘full-time sports’ at the high school level,” she said. “That passion is there. That drive to want to be a better athlete (is there). You just need to come out and volunteer and see for yourself … that it’s a legit sport. People have a misconception about Special Olympics sports, but it’s legit.”

Pride
Special Olympics is so much more than just sports for the athletes who compete, it’s about instilling a sense of pride, confidence and self-worth. Blackford said this is another reason she loves coaching her own students in SOMO sports is because it brings to light a different side of them.

“I have one athlete who is very timid (and only competes on the local level),  who is a huge Hunger Games fan, so when she runs across the finish line now she yells, ‘I AM KATNISS!’ (after the main character in that book/film series),” Blackford said.

For any teacher, seeing their students learn and advance is the ultimate goal, but for Blackford, she’s able to take that to another level by coaching in Special Olympics.

“I absolutely love that about her,” Blackford said. “She’s just such a joy to watch and in the classroom she doesn’t exude that kind of confidence.”

Full disclosure: Dr. Phil Cook is also the current chairman of the Special Olympics Missouri board of directors.

SOMO receives $1 million challenge grant

$11.5 Million Raised To-Date Toward Special Olympics Missouri Training for Life Campus

(JEFFERSON CITY) — Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) has received a $1 million challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation for the planned SOMO Training for Life Campus (TLC). The SOMO TLC will be the first facility of its kind in the world built for the sole purpose of improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities with an emphasis on total wellness.

The Mabee Foundation challenge grant provides an incentive for SOMO to raise the remaining balance of $15.875 million by April 2016 in order to receive the $1 million. SOMO has raised 73 percent of its fundraising goal as of Oct. 15.

“We are extremely honored to receive this challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation,” said Dr. Phil Cook, SOMO board chairman. “This prestigious foundation recognizes the worthiness of the Training for Life Campus and is showing great confidence in the supporters of Special Olympics Missouri to make the campus a reality.”

The Training for Life Campus will offer year-round training and education for athletes, coaches and volunteers throughout Missouri. Located on 16.5 acres in Jefferson City, the centrally-located TLC will welcome SOMO athletes, their families and coaches to a 44,000-square-foot campus complete with training and educational facilities, athletic courts and fields and spaces for athlete health screenings, part of SOMO’s growing Healthy Athletes initiative (www.somo.org/HealthyAthletes). SOMO athletes have never had their own facility in the 42-year history of the organization.

The Mabee Foundation is a private charitable foundation founded in 1948 by Mr. John E. Mabee and his wife, Lottie E. Mabee, both Missouri natives. The benevolent foundation has given more than $1 billion to charitable projects since its founding.

“The Mabee Foundation challenge is an inspiration for all of us,” said Mark Musso, president and CEO of Special Olympics Missouri. “We’ve always believed SOMO has the greatest supporters in the world. This great philanthropic foundation has challenged our supporters to reach our fundraising goal in the next year, and create the world’s first facility specifically designed for athletes with intellectual disabilities – not just in terms of athletics, but also in terms of their health needs as well.”

SOMO’s Training for Life Campus fundraising campaign has gained momentum in recent months, a trend which TLC campaign committee members hope will continue with generous tax incentives for donors.

Buoyed by $1.1 million in remaining tax credits from the Missouri Development Finance Board and Neighborhood Assistance Program, SOMO offers donors excellent tax savings for supporting the Training for Life Campus. Tax credits for 2015 are still available.

“The Training for Life Campus capital campaign has tremendous momentum,” Musso said. “The Mabee Foundation gift is a call to action for all of our donors to rally in support of our SOMO athletes in their new home.”

To support the Training for Life Campus or explore tax credit opportunities, please contact Laurie Shadoan, Chief Advancement Officer, at (913) 789-0353 or shadoan@somo.org.
For more information on the Training for Life Campus and the capital campaign, contact Gary Wilbers at 573-644-6655 or gwilbers@goascend.biz.

Learn more about the SOMO Training for Life Campus at somocampus.org.

About Special Olympics Missouri
Special Olympics Missouri is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 16,500 athletes participate in 21 Olympic-type sports throughout the state. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy as they participate in the sharing of gifts and friendship with their fellow athletes, their family and friends, and communities across Missouri.

The vast majority of SOMO athletes are poor and low-income. Sixty four percent (64 percent) of SOMO athletes live below the federal poverty level and an additional 7 percent live below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Of our total athletes, 71 percent live in low-income households. An estimated one-third of SOMO athletes have autism spectrum disorder and another third have Down syndrome. There are an estimated 120,800 individuals with intellectual disabilities in Missouri.

SOMO athletes benefit from participation in numerous ways. More than 50 percent of Special Olympics athletes hold jobs, compared to 10 percent of qualified athletes who do not participate in SOMO. Participation in SOMO programs provides free access to health screenings and services, giving intellectually disabled athletes access to health care that they would otherwise not have. Special Olympics is the largest public health platform for people with intellectual disabilities in the world.

Special Olympics Missouri is proud of our financial health returning 83 percent of every dollar back to program services. We are privileged to be recognized with these honors: Better Business Bureau A+ Charity Accreditation, Charity Navigator 3-star rating and an inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame – Class of 2013.

Thank you for trusting us with your donations, volunteer time and your goodwill.

Visit Special Olympics at http://www.somo.org. Engage with us on Twitter @somissouri; fb.com/specialolympicsmo.
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Volunteers (nearly) steal the show at Outdoor Games

When it comes to a Special Olympics Missouri competition, the athletes usually end up being the stars of the weekend. While that was still technically true for the State Outdoor Games Sept. 25-27 in Jefferson City, some volunteers and local supporters nearly stole the show.

The State Outdoor Games is one of SOMO’s three statewide competitions, which included athletes showing off their skills in golf, tennis, bocce, softball and flag football.

With more than 900 athletes competing in the capital city, it was a perfect opportunity for the community to show their support.

Despite the numerous other events going on that weekend (Helias’s homecoming, Oktoberfest, the moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, etc.), more than 1,000 volunteers attended SOMO’s State Outdoor Games and made the weekend an absolute blast for the athletes.

The start of competition on Friday brought out more than 150 student-volunteers from Blair Oaks High School where bocce competition was being held. The day before, a dozen guys from the basketball team helped SOMO staff unload a couple hundred pieces of 10-foot PVC pipe and assemble 24 bocce courts.

Despite this being something new for Blair Oaks and its student body, Principal Gary Verslues said hosting a SOMO event and allowing the students a day off school to volunteer was a no-brainer.

“We can set the books down for one day because in the big scheme of life, this is a very important part of what we do and what we embed in our daily instruction is how we treat one another and how we interact,” Verslues said.

“This is just one day for us. … Maybe it’s a little bit of novelty because it’s something new and different for our student body, but what I want them to realize is that a lot of people live this every day. … If there’s nothing else they get out of today it’s about how we treat people and serve others and communicate and interact with others.”

Blair Oaks H.S. pulled out all the stops for SOMO athletes before bocce competition started, including forming a tunnel for the athletes to walk through to get to the field.

Blair Oaks H.S. pulled out all the stops for SOMO athletes before bocce competition started, including forming a tunnel for the athletes to walk through to get to the field.

SOMO athletes certainly loved the extra attention

SOMO athletes certainly loved the extra attention

While they were tasked with running the bocce competition, Verslues said it was just as important to make sure the athletes had a good time.

“To start the day, we brought the entire student body down to cheer on the (athletes) and formed a tunnel (for the athletes to walk through),” he said.

“I know some of the participants really hammed it up a little bit. There was some high-fiving going on. It was a lot of fun.”

Other key volunteers in attendance last weekend included State Sen. Mike Kehoe (R.-6th district) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R.-MO).

In an interview with News Radio KWOS, Kehoe said that he goes to a lot of events around the community and sometimes wonder why he’s there, but he doesn’t feel that way with Special Olympics.

“I couldn’t get enough of the athletes, the staff and the volunteers,” Kehoe said. “It was fantastic. There’s thousands of volunteers for Special Olympics statewide… and it’s just one of those things you get addicted to it.

“These folks when you meet them, when you see their passion, when you see their joy and the inspiration these games bring to them, it’s just electrifying.”

State Sen. Mike Kehoe poses for a photo with the Special Olympics USA softball players from Missouri before Opening Ceremony.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe poses for a photo with the Special Olympics USA softball players from Missouri before Opening Ceremony.

Blunt mentioned that he’s been a long-time supporter of Special Olympics Missouri and sees the programming it offers for people with intellectual disabilities as a lifesaver.

“I’ve been involved in it a long time,” Blunt said in an interview with News Radio KWOS. “Every story of every athlete here is a great story.

“I do love Special Olympics and the people who make it happen and the families that do so much their athletes and friends who wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Sen. Roy Blunt poses for a photo with the Unified softball team from Kirksville

Sen. Roy Blunt poses for a photo with the Unified softball team from Kirksville

There are plenty of other SOMO competitions and events throughout the year to get involved with, including: Area bowling competition (Oct. 26 at Fort Leonard Wood, Nov. 21 in Fulton and Dec. 5 at Whiteman Air Force Base), the Polar Plunge (Feb. 20 in Columbia and Feb. 27 at Lake of the Ozarks) and the Area Spring Games in April.

As always, for more information on Special Olympics Missouri, visit http://www.somo.org.

What it is like to intern with Special Olympics

As a journalism student at the University of Missouri, I always hear professors insisting that each student apply for a summer internship. I even sat through lectures that were focused on how to get an internship. But while my friends were applying for any opportunity they saw, I wanted to make sure that my experience actually held a special place in my heart. I soon found myself applying to intern with Special Olympics Missouri, and I did not regret the decision.

Many of my friends think of an internship as going and getting coffee and running errands for those that are above them. I never once had this assumption of my internship ever since I met Brandon (SOMO’s PR Manager) for the first time. I knew that I was going to be doing so much more than ordering coffees.

Summer Games

Summer Games

My first official day on the job was the first day of State Summer Games in Springfield. I initially thought that those two days were going to be filled with me simply running around and taking photos. But it was so much more than that; I had the opportunity to see people truly love on one another.

As I walked about on Missouri State University’s campus I got to see the genuine love that everyone involved in Special Olympics has for one another. It was not limited to athletes and coaches, but it expanded to staff members, volunteers and board members.
I felt fully immersed in the Special Olympics community and that weekend I told myself I would never leave it.

After Summer Games, I also had the opportunity to attend the annual Sports Camp at the Missouri Military Academy in Mexico. This camp gave me the chance to talk with athletes a little bit more than I had at Summer Games, learn about the different sports and realize I’ve been waiting in long cafeteria lines my whole life.

Sports Camp

Sports Camp

Some athletes even remembered seeing me at Summer Games, which was not something that I had expected at all. And just like anyone else they still made sure to ask me if I had taken photos of them and if they could see said photos.

Throughout my internship thus far I have never seen anyone upset or angry. Everyone has been happy, joyful even. This organization gives me hope that every person can find happiness in this world and that happiness is contagious.

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Addendum: August 17, 2015

Today marks my last day of coming into the office to help Brandon with logos, videos and spreadsheets. It is my last day of coming in and hearing the chatter and laughter between each of the cubicles. It is my last day of being able to see the smiling faces of the organization all around me.

My internship with Special Olympics Missouri has done a lot more than just allow me to expand my public relations portfolio. In a way, it has made me more aware of what I am saying and why.

I have become a lot more intentional about the words I choose and I try to make sure that when I speak, there is reason behind it. I do not just want to say something merely for the enjoyment of speaking. When I speak, I want my words to have power and I believe that my internship has helped me start on this path.

Although my days of being considered an intern here are through, I still plan on volunteering, spreading the word and most likely jumping in a body of really cold water this winter (www.somo.org/Plunge).

Thank you to everyone who works with, volunteers with and competes with Special Olympics. You instill hope and love into those around you and those are things that we need more of in this world.

I am a proud fan of all of the athletes of Special Olympics and I encourage everyone to be a fan.

Brooke Wiggins is a junior Strategic Communications-Public Relations major at the University of Missouri. 

2015 World Games: Day 8 — Missouri Proud

This is the seventh blog post (find others on our blog homepage!) in a series from Special Olympics Missouri Public Relations Manager Brandon Schatsiek who is in Los Angeles  covering the 13 Missouri athletes competing for Special Olympics USA at the 2015 World Games.

Well, it’s been a long week here in Los Angeles for our Missouri guys competing in tennis and softball, but it’s been an even longer year-plus that these athletes have been training after being named to the team in July 2014. I think if you asked all of them they’d say that their goal was to win the gold, but I also believe that they would have been content with anything because the overall experience they’ve received this week would be better than any pretty medal.

DSC_0695 (Copy)Both Bobby and the softball team played really, REALLY hard today in their respective gold-medal matches, but both couldn’t quite beat their opponent who were both ridiculously good today.

Bobby played an athlete from Russia who was just a tad better than Bobby right now and Bobby admitted as much in his postgame interview. Bobby did have a brief lead in both sets, but I don’t think they were ever more than by one and even then, the Russian athlete’s serves were like a professional tennis player’s serves and that made it really difficult for Bobby to keep returning them and break his serve. The good serves that Bobby did get in were handled rather easily on the opposite side of the court. Bobby had quite the cheering section that included family members, tennis team members, SOMO staff and friends and more, which you could tell he appreciated in between points.

Both games were closer than it looked and Bobby certainly made all of us in attendance and those cheering from afar… Missouri Proud.

The softball team knew they had a tough game against Special Olympics USA — Arizona because AZ was a team that started in the top division after the first few games and somehow found their way into the second division with Canada, Mexico and USA — Missouri after just one game. While our guys knew they could certainly hold their own against them, they also realized they couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and really needed to make them pay for their own mistakes.

DSC_0824 (Copy)Unfortunately today, the USA-Arizona squad didn’t make any mistakes and USA-Missouri made too many to keep the game close and lost 22-5. After months of phenomenal defense, the Missouri defense made several mistakes per game, which cost the team runs and ultimately came back to bite them in the butt.

The team dug itself yet another huge hole to climb out of in the first inning, losing 10-0 after 1 and 20-0 after the second. The Arizona team truly should have been in the top division because they had hardly any weaknesses, while most of the teams in the second division had several trouble spots whether it was in the lineup or in the outfield.

Disappointed as they were (and this goes for Bobby too), they tried their best and that’s all we could ever ask of them. Personally, I’m so proud of each and every one of our guys for getting this far and competing on the world stage. They’ve overcome so much in their lives getting here and winning the silver medal shouldn’t be seen as a consolation prize as much as it is yet another success story in their lives already filled with them.

The World Games have come to a close for Sarah and me. We were so excited to spend our summer vacation traveling around LA and chronicling our Missouri boys competing this summer. We will not have a blog from Closing Ceremony as we’re leaving Sunday before the actual ceremony. It’s been a privilege to keep you all in the loop back home and we hope that this helped you feel like you were there watching and cheering them on.

As always, more photos are available on our Flickr album or our Facebook page and you can follow along during the day with live updates from the games by following our social media accounts (Facebook & Twitter).