2015 World Games: Day 3 — A tale of two halves

This is the third 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.

Monday was a tale of two halves for our Missouri boys — there was the first half of the day where the softball team zombie-walked their way to a 9-15 loss vs. Canada and Bobby Williams lost two nail-biters 8-10 and 10-12 vs. Venezuela and Chile respectively. Then there was the second half of the day were the boys clobbered Mexico 13-5 and Bobby won both of his doubles match with his partner Jeff Scott from California 10-7 vs. Italy and 10-8 vs. another SO USA team.

Let’s just chalk these morning games up to them still being on Missouri time. Yeah, that sounds good.

Allen Cameron pitching vs. Canada

Allen Cameron pitching vs. Canada

It was an early start for the softball team vs. Canada at 9 a.m. at UCLA and it certainly showed. The bats were rather silent to begin the game and the defense was suspect throughout. It was close after one inning, but Canada was able to string together multiple hits, while our guys couldn’t answer. Personally, I think they can beat Canada if given another chance, but it just wasn’t their time this morning.

Arthur Murphy celebrates a double and asks for some applause from the crowd vs. Mexico

Arthur Murphy celebrates a double and asks for some applause from the crowd vs. Mexico

The second game vs. Mexico went a lot better as pitching, hitting and defense all showed up in front of a pretty big crowd. They won 13-5 and really, it wasn’t even that close. Every player had a hit (except for four players who had walks in their only at-bat) and while there weren’t many extra base hits, the team did exactly what coach Dana Griesinger has been preaching for months now — hit line drives! Another thing that I noticed was that our guys aren’t scared to get thrown out on the basepaths. They are always looking as to how they could take an extra base here or there and forced Mexico into several throwing errors. One final aspect that was good to see is how patient they were at the plate. They had multiple walks in the game (SEVEN total), a few of which forced in runs with the bases loaded. The coaches have done a great job of preaching patience and telling them not to let the moment get the best of them. It’s looking like that mindset is really paying off. We hope the momentum continues tomorrow as they’ll play against Bharat (India) at 1 p.m.

Players who went 3-3 on the day between both games:
– Nick Short
– Tyler Scott

DSC_0612Bobby’s singles matches early in the morning weren’t necessarily “shakey,” but something was just a little off about Bobby’s game. I love watching Bobby play tennis because he moves so gracefully around on the court and makes every shot look effortless. He was moving really well in both of his losses (to Venezuela and Chile), but his serves didn’t have his usual spark to them — he admitted as much in his postgame interview. He played pretty well in both matches, but it just wasn’t enough today.

Bobby guards the next during his doubles match with Jeff Scott from California

Bobby guards the next during his doubles match with Jeff Scott from California

The doubles matches with Jeff Scott from California, while they were close from beginning to end, were never in too much doubt because Bobby and Jeff never trailed in either match. Despite not knowing each other just a few months ago before meeting in Indianapolis for training camp, Bobby and Jeff do a great job of moving together as one on the court. They work really well together and I’m looking forward to see them progress throughout the week. Bobby and Jeff have more doubles divisioning at 10 a.m., but right now it’s not looking like he’ll have any singles matches Tuesday.

Some other fun things that happened today:

We're kind of a big deal!

We’re kind of a big deal!

– We went to the big festival area where we collected pins, visited sponsored tents, tried an Oculus virtual reality thing, looked at merch and MADE THE COVER OF ESPN THE MAGAZINE! 😉

– Michelle Kwan was spotted in the stands watching Bobby and other athletes compete on Court 3 at the UCLA Tennis Center

– Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was at the afternoon softball game vs. Mexico and met with the team prior to the game for a pep talk. He stayed the whole game to cheer on the guys and then took a group photo at the end before letting them know the big surprise that they are going to attend the Dodgers/Athletics game Tuesday as special guests of Turner. They will be able to go down on the field for batting practice and everything. Despite being a team full of Royals and Cardinals fans, the guys are SO excited for this opportunity.

Coach Dana Griesinger, Justin Turner and Coach Susan Shaffer

Coach Dana Griesinger, Justin Turner and Coach Susan Shaffer

– Following the game vs. Mexico, the guys were greeted by adoring fans both young and old who wanted their autographs. It made for a really cute moment between fans and athletes.

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).

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.

Allison D’Agostino named SOMO Athlete of the Year, other athletes honored

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

Allison D’Agostino, NAMED BEST IN STATE
Allison D’Agostino doesn’t seek the limelight everywhere she goes, but somehow it finds her. It’s the nurturing way she shares her skills and knowledge with the other athletes she trains and competes with that sets her apart. It wouldn’t be odd to find Allison working with another athlete to help them understand a swim stroke or retrieving their bowling ball. She is a very giving person. At 25 years old, Allison has been able to build up her confidence level through Special Olympics. This confidence brought her from just training in aquatics to competing and gaining in her skill. This same confidence has allowed her to live alone for four years and start not one but two media outlets on her own. Allison has her own YouTube Channel called The Esperanza243 and conducts a radio show on BlogTalkRadio.com called Show Time, Radio Time. These experiences led her to be selected to be trained as a Global Messenger and she had her first speaking engagement at the Polar Plunge in Columbia. As part of a new communications project at SOMO, Allison was selected to be the first host of the brand new SOMO TV Show (SOMO.org/TV). All these things that Allison does are on top of holding a full-time job at Wendy’s. She is a model employee and shows her independence by making sure she gets to and from work on time. She is also one to help with the Central Area through fundraising, speaking in front of groups or whatever is needed.

Michael Lunceford
Michael Lunceford is a quiet and unassuming young man who has been participating in Special Olympics for six years. In that time, Michael has grown as a person who is willing to learn, work hard and do everything he can to help his team. Michael plays several sports including basketball, track & field, golf and bocce. His favorite by far though is bowling. Michael is very diligent about coming to practice and working hard. That diligence paid off when Michael was selected for Team Missouri for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. While there, he received two gold medals and a 4th place ribbon. Michael’s perseverance in Special Olympics has paid off in other areas of Michael’s life. While in high school, he won several state awards for his wood working projects. He loves to play the drums and got to play them in a special education production of “The Lion King.” Michael is currently a part of a transition program between his school and a local medical center where he is working on job and life skills. He is also currently working with his father volunteering for Missouri Town, an historic village in Jackson County, as a “tin smith.” He is able to talk to visitors and tell them exactly what it is they are making and the methods they are using. Special Olympics has given Michael the self-confidence to work hard and be as independent as possible. It has not only taught him athletic skills but also life skills. It has taught him what it means to be a part of a team.

Becca Tincknell — St. Louis Metro Area
Becca Tincknell has been contributing to Special Olympics Missouri since she first joined the program at the age of seven. She currently competes in bowling, basketball, softball, flag football, athletics and bocce – an all-around athlete! But she is always willing to try new sports: When asked to fill a tennis slot for the 2003 World Games in Dublin, she had never played the sport before but took a year’s worth of lessons and returned home with a gold medal. She was also proud to represent Team Missouri at the 2014 USA Games, winning a gold, silver and fourth-place ribbon in bocce. She is trained as a Global Messenger and is a reliable and entertaining speaker and volunteer at events and fundraisers. After competing in the 2014 USA Games as a bocce player, Becca is now participating in bocce practices with her team as an official, allowing her to focus more closely on the game. She not only shares her strategy with her fellow players, but also learns more about the game in the process. She was recently featured in the Jefferson County Leader as its “Athlete of the Week” and was selected as one of two athletes to be on a billboard with Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams, promoting their partnership with Special Olympics Missouri.

Lonnie Thornton — Southwest Area
Lonnie Thornton has been participating in Special Olympics for 13 years, and this past year has been an incredible one for him. Last summer, Lonnie attended the USA Games in New Jersey. He competed in bocce and earned gold, silver and bronze medals. Don’t challenge him to a game of bocce unless you are prepared to lose, because he is very good! While at the Games, Lonnie was able to do something he has always wanted to do — see the Statue of Liberty. He said this was the best time of his life since the accident that left him with a disability. Lonnie was also featured on a billboard in his community for his achievements as well as led the Athlete’s Oath at the State Outdoor Games. Lonnie previously competed at the 2006 National Games in Iowa. He also competes in basketball, bowling and softball. Lonnie is well known at SOMO and in his community. Staff, coaches, volunteers and other athletes enjoy being around him because he is always friendly, smiling or cracking a joke. Go anywhere with Lonnie in his community and someone he knows always stops to chat or ask how he is doing. He is never shy to express how much he appreciates and loves Special Olympics.

Brianne Chavez — Southeast Area
Brianne Chavez has participated in Special Olympics sports since graduating high school in 2005. She has played softball, basketball, soccer, track and powerlifting. In 2008, Brianne received the Southeast Area Outstanding Athlete award along with the discovery of powerlifting. Not only has she done well at State Summer Games competitions, Brianne has set APA (American Powerlifting Association) national and world records for the Special Olympics women’s division in 148 lb. and 165 lb. classes as well as 22-23 year old women’s division in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, she earned a spot on Team Missouri’s USA Games Unified Softball Team. In 2014, she qualified as a powerlifter for Team Missouri, excelling in many events. All her time in the gym training paid off as she achieved two personal best weights in the squat and the deadlift. She received state and national attention as she received four gold medals in the following lifts: bench press, squat, deadlift and combination. Brianne is one dedicated athlete and never misses an opportunity to train. She is a great person and definitely leads by example.

James Ross — North Area
James Ross is an athlete who has an outstanding personality; he always finds the good in any situation. One of James’s main assets is that he has the ability to get the most out of those around him by being himself and showing his wonderful positive attitude. He does this by being a team player. James currently participates in basketball, bowling, bocce, softball and track and field. He is known in the community as a go-getter and will volunteer for the local fundraisers helping his teammates. James will offer to help load a truck, move tables and chairs and lend a helping hand to anyone. He has the knack for seeing what needs to be done and doing it. He also has a knack of reading people and knowing when they need a pat on the back, an encouraging word, a smile or just someone to listen. James likes to spend time watching sports with his fellow teammates; he is an enthusiast when it comes to sports. James is a positive role model to his teammates and other athletes and a great advocate for Special Olympics. He is constantly recruiting his friends to play on a team or recruiting people to sponsor or volunteer for Special Olympics. He just recently took the Global Messenger training so that he can tell his story of what Special Olympics means to him. He currently serves as a team captain and an assistant coach to his team due to an injury that keeps him from playing basketball and softball. James never misses a meeting or an event and is there to cheer on his teammates and other athletes.

Training for Life Campus to be Built in Jefferson City

(Jefferson City) After meeting on Saturday, Jan. 17 to review the bids for the Training for Life Campus (TLC) from Columbia and Jefferson City, the Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) Board of Directors made a unanimous decision to enter into an agreement with Jefferson City officials to locate the 44,000-sq.-foot Training for Life Campus on the 15.5 acres donated by Farmer Holding Company and Twehous Excavating. “We really want to commend both cities on the bids they put forward,” said SOMO Board Chairman Dr. Phil Cook. “It has been a long process, but through it all it has shown us just how lucky we are to have two amazing communities who support our program and athletes, while looking for ways to grow our partnerships even more. “The decision to locate the TLC in Jefferson City was based in large part due to the Jefferson City proposal allowing the campus to truly be a place for our athletes to call their own. We’ve said from day one that was important to us now and 50 years in the future. The ability to own the land in Jefferson City versus leasing it in Columbia in a partnership with Columbia Parks and Recreation was an important difference.”

From left, Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph, Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Randy Allen, SOMO athlete Derek Sandbothe, SOMO Board Chairman Dr. Phil Cook and SOMO CEO/President Mark Musso all pose for a photo following the announcement Jan. 20.

From left, Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph, Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Randy Allen, SOMO athlete Derek Sandbothe, SOMO Board Chairman Dr. Phil Cook and SOMO CEO/President Mark Musso all pose for a photo following the announcement Jan. 20.

Jefferson City Mayor Eric J. Struemph said, “We are very pleased and excited Special Olympics Missouri has selected Jefferson City as its new location for the Training for Life Campus. This project has truly been a great partnership between many entities all working together toward a great project that will have a big impact on our community. The cooperation between the City of Jefferson, Cole County, Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, developers, healthcare providers and business leaders all coming together to bring resources and support makes this project a great win for the Jefferson City area and Special Olympics Missouri.” When finding out Jefferson City won the bid, Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said, “There is very little in life as inspiring and joyful as Special Olympics. We are disappointed not to play host to Special Olympics Missouri to be sure, but certainly happy for our friends in Jefferson City as we know how lucky they are to get this wonderful organization.” “We are disappointed that Columbia wasn’t chosen,” said Mike Griggs, director of Columbia Parks and Recreation. “We feel that Columbia presented an excellent option and we’re proud of the work that was done by everyone who assisted with this proposal. The Columbia Parks and Recreation will continue to be a strong and supportive partner for Special Olympics Missouri and look forward to hosting some of their larger events.” Despite Columbia not winning the bid, SOMO President and CEO Mark Musso said he is confident the Columbia program will continue to “be one of the strongest in the state” thanks in large part to the partnership with Columbia Parks and Recreation. “SOMO continues to host area competitions in Columbia and has enjoyed a long history of successful games there at the area, regional and state level,” Musso said. “Columbia Parks and Rec’s facilities will continue to be utilized by the local program and SOMO will strongly consider the return of regional and state games to Columbia with the additional Parks and Rec facilities in Phillips Park and Gans Creek Recreation Area.” The site for the TLC will be located at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 54 and Missouri Highway 179. It 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. The current capital campaign for the TLC is well on its way to raising the $12.5 million needed to build the facility. The SOMO Board of Directors has said from the beginning that construction on the campus will not begin until the full $12.5 million has been raised. Currently the campaign is more than half way to that goal with the expectation to reach the final goal in 2016 and commence construction thereafter. With the additional 4-plus acres (compared to the 11.2 acres previously purchased by SOMO south of Columbia on U.S. Highway 63) it will now allow the construction of a full softball field instead of just a softball infield as previously discussed. It will also now have enough space for a walking trail on the outer edge of the campus. Staffing for the new building is expected to grow from 15 people currently to 30.

This is a rough sketch of what the Training for Life Campus COULD look like.

This is a rough sketch of what the Training for Life Campus COULD look like.

“We want to thank Farmer Holding Company and Twehous Excavating for donating the land, elected officials, civic and business leaders who collectively came and made clear how much they wanted the campus in Jefferson City, including Chamber CEO Randy Allen and Mayor Eric J. Struemph,” Musso said. “The forming of the Healthy Athletes Steering Committee comprised of hospital and health officials and the president of Lincoln University impressed us with their commitment to the overall health of the athletes and how SOMO is more than just about sports.” “Another committee formed to bring us to Jefferson City was the Civic Progress sub-committee for the TLC comprised of presidents from Jefferson City banks and an Ameren Missouri executive to help us reach our $12.5 million goal.”

Athletes will have their own entrance into the building.

Athletes will have their own entrance into the building.

Circle drive approach to the building

Circle drive approach to the building

Interior view with the LETR torch in the center

Interior view with the LETR torch in the center

Main entry

Main entry

The perfect volunteers: An athlete-to-athlete bond

Finding the so-called perfect group of volunteers is not easy. It’s important that they are dedicated, easy-going, hard-working and most important, dependable. For SOMO Central Area Program Director Diane Brimer, however, that perfect group fell in her lap a few years ago.

“I had gotten contacted by Westminster Student Athlete Advisory Council staff who was interested in getting (its students) involved with Special Olympics,” Brimer said. “So when I got ready to do my bowling tournament in Fulton, I contacted them just to see if I could just get some of the students to come out … what they decided to do is take this event and now this is their event that they volunteer for.”

Between the different sports teams at Westminster, Brimer said she has enough volunteers to cover six different sessions of her Area Bowling Tournament in Fulton every fall.

“One of the greatest things is that I can make one contact and then they are recruiting the volunteers for me, so I can put my efforts into preparing for the event,” Brimer said. “That partnership is helping me make it happen and put my efforts and time into other things that make the tournament a success. It’s been great.”

While the idea was passed down from the SAAC at Westminster, the respective coaches of the teams involved have embraced the volunteering philosophy.

“We’ve done it for a few years now… the kids really enjoy it,” said Denny Hughes, Westminster’s baseball coach. “It’s a great opportunity for them.”

Hughes said volunteerism is something he tries to instill in all of his players as being an integral part of being not just on the team, but as a functioning member of society as well.

“We are more than happy to come out,” Hughes said. “We wanted to do community service within our baseball program any way and this gave us a great opportunity to do so.

“I think any time that you can expose anybody to volunteerism — not just your athletes, but anybody to volunteerism — it gets addictive for them. We know that volunteerism is really what makes our country thrive and so it’s a part of their educational process.”

After a few years of being involved in this process, the student-athletes view volunteering as just one more thing that is expected of them as is going to class and practice. They revel in that opportunity to get out and give back.

“One thing I think it just helps community wealth; it builds it up,” said Ryan Loethen, a junior baseball player at Westminster.

Another aspect for the athletes isn’t so much on the personal level, but what it does for the team as well.

“I think what we get out of this as a team would be just interacting with other people and being involved in something more than yourself,” Loethen said. “Just taking time out of your day to help people, that’s the main thing that coach wants us to experience.”

Even though most Special Olympics Missouri events are only one or two days a year, Loethen and Hughes said the impact for them can last much longer.

“I know some of my teammates have really bonded with some of the other athletes,” Loethen said. “One of my teammates got involved more than just bowling back in their hometown.”

Hughes said, “Giving of yourself is probably the greatest reward you can give to yourself. … The guys talk about it for a long time, so it has a great impact on them.”

Brimer realizes how lucky she is to have the Westminster student-athletes and isn’t planning on letting them stop volunteering anytime soon.

“We’ve had some great group leaders and faculty advisors throughout the years and I hope it never ends,” Brimer said with a smile. “I really don’t.”

There’s No Place Like Home: 20 Years on Staff

By Trish Lutz, Senior Director of Programs

With Richie Wallace

With Richie Wallace

In May 1991, I graduated from Pittsburg State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations and a minor in business administration. Like any other college graduate, I hit the pavement to find a job. In August 1991, I was offered the position as the Missouri Special Olympics Area IV (now KC Metro) Administrative Assistant. I had the choice of taking the job with SOMO or being a marketing assistant who helped market modular prisons where I would make more money, but I chose to take the route of a more fulfilling job. Little did I know that it was not only a fulfilling job, but one that seeped deep within my soul to the point that I cannot imagine my life without Special Olympics.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the attitude of the abilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities was a lot different than it is now. However, I had the fortunate opportunity to have two best friends growing up that had siblings with intellectual disabilities that I got to spend tons of time with.

Kim Wallace and I first met in 4th grade. She was shy and I was outgoing. She was short, I was tall. She liked to study and read, I liked to talk and socialize. We were complete opposites, but we soon became the best of friends and still are as she was the matron of honor at my wedding 17 years ago. Kim was the second to youngest of 5 kids and her older brother, Richie was born with Down syndrome. I had never been around individuals with Down syndrome and I was little apprehensive at first but when I saw how Kim’s family interacted with Richie and didn’t treat him any differently, I realized that Richie was person just like me.

Mindy Oliver

Mindy Oliver

Soon after, Nikki Oliver and I because good friends through girl scouts and dance. Her mom, Nancy, was my dance teacher. Nikki was the youngest of three girls and her oldest sister, Mindy, had an intellectual disability. I would often go to Nikki’s house after school and Nikki, Mindy and I would hang out. I loved being with Mindy. She was always so happy and smiling all the time. She would get excited when she saw me and ask me a ton of questions (always the same questions, but I never got tired of answering them). She would watch us practice dance and tell me I did a good job. She would cheer for us at our volleyball and basketball games. Mindy was always that lift I needed.

As my career with SOMO began to evolve, I became the first Missouri KC Metro Area Director. Special Olympics Kansas and Special Olympics Missouri decided to embark on a new adventure and join the two area programs since the only thing that divided us was State Line Road. The Kansas KC Metro Area Director and I combined our largest event, our Area Spring Games (track and field). It was at this event that everything came full circle for me. Both Mindy and Richie participated with Special Olympics Kansas and they competed at this event! I was honored to get to present Richie one of his medals and be there when Mindy received one of her medals. I had grown up with these two individuals and now I had planned a competition for them to be able to showcase their abilities. Looking back, this was at the top of the list of one of the highlights of my career.

Fast forward to 1996 and there is an opening at the then “State Office” (now Headquarters) as the Special Events Coordinator. I had spent 5 years in Kansas City and decided it was time to try my hand at something new. I got the position and transferred to Jefferson City. I was trying to find my way, was missing my friends and family and had become good friends with the Brimer Family at the 1995 World Games. Gary Brimer was the Director of Sports and Training at that time. Gary would invite me to spend the weekends with his family and asked me if I wanted to coach the Unified® Basketball team that he had coached at the World Games because he couldn’t anymore due to his position with SOMO. I said sure, and that’s when my life took another turn.

With Brian, my husband

With Brian, my husband

There was this guy who started coming to basketball practice on Sunday evenings just to work out with the team. He had red hair, blue eyes, a great smile and nice legs. One thing led to another and we started dating. I wasn’t as happy in my new position because I really missed planning the sporting events for the athletes. Next thing I know I was engaged, and that’s when I decided maybe I wanted a job that was 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, so I decided to move on from SOMO. I got a job with the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA), married that red-haired, blue-eyed hunk, Brian Lutz, but still remained very involved as a volunteer with Special Olympics Missouri.
During what I like to call my three-year sabbatical, I was able to realize just how good I had it with SOMO. I gained new skills and really grew up at MSBA, but there was always something missing and that was the mission, the athletes and the people.

In 1999, the Northeast Area Director position opened up and my life took yet another turn when I had the tremendous opportunity to come back “home!” I started back with SOMO on August 16, 1999 and that very same day Brian and I found out we were expecting a baby!

Rachel and her SOMO basketball team

Rachel and her SOMO basketball team

Now 15 years later, I am the Sr. Director of Programs, still married to that hunk who has the same passion for SOMO, and we have a beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, who also shares the same passion and not because she has been going to events since she was in the womb! She truly loves working with the athletes and actually plans to become an early childhood special education teacher and maybe someday she will run the Young Athlete Program in Missouri!

Working for SOMO isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. I often tell people how fortunate I am to wake up every morning and say “Yes, I get to go to work!” I have met so many wonderful people and made so many lifelong friends.

With Danny Duvall

With Danny Duvall

Many athletes have touched my life beyond measure, like Richie Wallace, Mindy Oliver, Danny Duvall, Jared Niemeyer, Robb Eichelberger, Garrett Lawrence, Jamie Graham, Sarah Byland, Tina Jones, Shirlene Treadwell, Max Homer, Steve McKinney, Donzell Williams, Emily Carroll, Matt Cepeda, Arthur Murphy, Rodney Shoaf and Kristina Rhodes.

I have planned and organized events for the athletes to compete, trained athletes to do public speaking and had the pleasure of seeing them succeed in sports and in life.
I watched Jared Niemeyer run his first race and most recently beamed with pride as he was invited to the White House to celebrate what he has done to promote a world of inclusion, acceptance and respect. I own the very first children’s book that Jamie Graham wrote and illustrated. I cheered Robb Eichelberger onto a gold medal finish in tennis at the 2006 National Games, and now he serves on the SOMO Board of Directors. My one and only experience as a Unified partner in bowling was with my friend Shirlene Treadwell and when I couldn’t knock a single pin down, she was there to encourage me all the way. I remember how Danny Duvall would always give me a hug every time he saw me and the day he was inducted into the SOMO Hall of Fame, just weeks before he passed away after his battle with cancer.

With Jared Niemeyer

With Jared Niemeyer

I am one Kansas girl who is glad I followed the yellow brick road to Missouri 23 years ago. I found my “Emerald City” in SOMO and the great Wizard of SOMO, Mark Musso, who gave me a home in SOMO, not once, but twice and I am very fortunate to call my boss!

Along the way I met the good witch, Diannah White, who was my supervisor and mentor for many years. She is now the Executive Director of her church and is one of my dearest friends and role models.

Susan Stegeman is the not-so-cowardly lion who has the courage to lead the development team to raise the funds to support the more than 17,000 athletes in Missouri.

Mary Lou Hammann, is the brainy scarecrow who leads the operations team and is the brains behind our organization and making sure that we operate efficiently and with integrity.

Then there is the tinman, Gary Brimer, he is the heart of SOMO who has built the sports program to what it is today and has taught others to do the same.

While I may not own a pair of ruby red slippers like Dorothy, I can honestly say “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME!” Thank you for the past 20 years and I certainly look for forward to the years to come!

Summer Games moving to Springfield for 2015-2018

(Jefferson City) More than 2,200 athletes and coaches, along with family and friends from across Missouri will converge on Springfield May 29-31, 2015, for the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games. This will be the first of a four-year term in Springfield.

This is the first time a Special Olympics Missouri state event will be held in Springfield since the State Summer Games in 2011.

“Our past experiences with Springfield have been among the best in the state,” said Mark Musso, Special Olympics Missouri CEO/President. “The bids were very competitive but after the site visits it was obvious that the city of Springfield, Drury University, Missouri State University and the members of the Springfield Sports Commission and Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau are united and excited about bringing SOMO State Summer Games back to Springfield.”

Volleyball, athletics (track and field), aquatics, soccer and powerlifting are featured in the State Summer Games, which were previously held in Columbia from 2012-14. Competition will include traditional games, Unified Sports® (bringing together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities — people of similar age and athletic ability), team skills and individual skills.

“The Springfield Sports Commission, along with the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, Missouri State University and Drury University are incredibly honored that our city was awarded this contract for 2015-2018,” said Lance Kettering, Executive Director. “In addition to the competition, it is always exciting to see the spirit of the Special Olympics State Summer Games with the friendships that are formed by the athletes, volunteers, staff, sponsors and our community. We look forward to the next four years and our partnership with Special Olympics Missouri.”

The two local venues that will be used for the 2015-2018 State Summer Games are the campus of Missouri State University for volleyball, athletics, soccer and powerlifting and Drury University for aquatics.

Volunteers play an enormously important role in the success of this event. A Games Management Team is being formed to plan and organize the event during the months leading up to it. An estimated 1,500 volunteers will be needed for the actual running of the competition. There are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities available including fundraising, meal planning, special event planning, setup and more.

The event is expected to cost approximately $230,000. Sponsorships help underwrite the cost of the event and allow more opportunities for our athletes. For more information on volunteering or sponsorships, contact Trish Lutz at lutz@somo.org or call 573-635-1660.