Special Olympics Missouri’s Annual Award Winners Announced

Jennifer Neihouse, Jeff Fugett, Mike and Kathy Lowry and the Hewlett family were all recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2014 SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 18 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement.

Outstanding Athlete: Jennifer Neihouse, Lee’s Summit 

Jennifer Neihouse has everything a coach could want in an athlete–hustle, hard work, Jennifer Neihouse Athlete of the Yearalways smiling, cheering, great team work, willingness to try new sports and then some!  She participates in bowling, track, swimming, basketball, bocce, softball and powerlifting.  She would do more if we offered it and it fit her schedule!

Jennifer is currently tackling a swimming routine to improve her times so she can do well at this summer’s USA Games in New Jersey.  Once again, we have challenged Jennifer to work hard at a sport that is not easy nor her best one but once again she is doing the work and making improvements so she can do her very best.

Jennifer also exhibits a love for promoting the program and has taken the steps to be a Global Messenger.  She has given her time to go out and promote the message of Special Olympics to many groups in KC.

Outstanding Volunteer: Jeff Fugett, Bolivar

Jeff Fugett is a trooper with the Missouri Highway Patrol and has been involved with SOMO since 2000.  In his time with SOMO he has served on various committees and participated in the Torch Run every year.  Jeff also has volunteered his time at various events as well as hosting an area basketball tournament and has served for several years on the water crew at Summer Games.

At the 2013 State Summer Games, Jeff decided to come up early and help coordinate aJeff Fugget Volunteer of the Year group of officers to set up the games.  He then participated in the final leg of the Torch Run to open the games.  When medal presenters didn’t show, he stepped in and helped present medals to the athletes.  On top of what he did at Summer Games last year, he then did the same thing at Fall Games, helping with the tear down of each venue.

In addition to his volunteering at events, he is also a Super Plunger raising a minimum of $2,500.  He has been a Super Plunger for many years and truly does NOT enjoy jumping in the icy cold waters at the Lake of the Ozarks 24 times in 24 hours, but does so because he believe in the mission and in the nearly 17,000 athletes in Missouri.

Outstanding Coaches: Mike and Kathy Lowry, Independence 

Kathy and Mike Lowry are both dedicated, passionate and selfless coaches who give their all to Special Olympics Missouri.  The two-for-one package is hard to break.  Mike and Kathy are coaches who work on improving their athlete’s lives by growing them as Lowrys Coach of the Yearleaders both on and off the playing field.  They are always looking for better ways to improve their athletes’ skills.  They often give their time on a free weekend to travel to sports clinics and other activities, so the athletes can learn new skills and improve others.  Mike and Kathy offer seven different sports at William Chrisman High School, but when athletes want to play a sport they do not offer, the Lowrys find a team for athletes to play on, and make sure they get to practice.

Besides these duties, they both volunteer their time as key Volunteer Managers at the area & state level competition.  Both Mike and Kathy also bring their talents to Sports Camp for a week, in order to help make camp a wonderful experience fort the athletes.  It’s nice to count on them as they can be moved around at events to assist with different activities and they will make it fun for everyone.

Outstanding Family: The Hewletts, Warrenton

The Hewlett family is a family that goes above andHewletts Family of the Year beyond to build awareness for Special Olympics Missouri.  Kim Hewlett is the mother of D.J., Emily and Sarah.  Emily and Sarah are both athletes in the program.  D.J. is their older brother and he volunteers in a variety of ways as a chaperone, Unified Partner and venue coordinator.

Kim is a single mom who works a very demanding full-time job.  She is an advocate not just for her own children, but for others as well.

D.J. works full time at the sheltered workshop and goes to college in the evenings.  D.J. applied for the job at the workshop because of his sisters and his involvement with Special Olympics and his love for working with individuals with special needs.

 

SOMO(ian) of the Month: Justin Baker, Athlete (Central Area)

This is the first in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the Central Area has singled out athlete Justin Baker of Bunceton as the October Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Athletes aren’t supposed to be artistic.

Artists aren’t supposed to be athletic.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities aren’t supposed to be good at anything.

Justin Baker defies the traditional narrative.

 

State Track and Field (43)
Justin Baker waves to the camera at the 2013 Central Area Spring Games Track and Field competition.

Athletic
At 26 years old, Baker is one of the most competitive athletes in the whole Central Area. Sure, most Special Olympics Missouri athletes are competitive by nature, but according to his coach, Lori Woods, Baker takes it to another level.

“What really sets him apart from the other athletes in the program is mainly his competitiveness,” Woods said. “He really wants to excel at everything he does. He likes to better himself.”

Judy Baker, Justin’s grandmother with whom he lives, said that competitive spirit has really been stoked and enhanced by participating in Special Olympics Missouri.

“SOMO has given him competition and that’s just great!” Judy said. “He’s committed to it and looks forward to it very much.”

Leadership
But as competitive as Baker is, those around him say that he doesn’t let that affect his attitude toward other people.

Woods, Baker’s coach of more than 10 years, said he relishes the fact that his peers look up to him.

“He’s fun-loving, friendly and really likes to be a leader with his peers,” said Woods. “The main thing for him is for his peers to look up to him. They’re always competing against him in bowling and he enjoys teaching them.”

New Conveyor (15)

Baker, second from left, enjoys the company of his co-workers while at work at Unlimited Opportunities Inc. Baker, 26, has worked in the recycling department there since he graduated from high school.

That lead-first attitude is also on display at Unlimited Opportunities Inc., where Baker worked part-time for a number of years before graduating from Bunceton High School. He has since taken a full-time job in the recycling department where Recycling Manager Kit Brewer has had the opportunity to work with Baker.

“He’s just a very happy-go-lucky guy. He’s a really hard worker,” Brewer said. “He’s a guy that likes to work on all of our different processing lines and he’s certified on nearly every machine.

“He’s always willing to help and when we have a new person in here that needs to be taught how a machine works, he’s the first guy there to teach them.”

Another way SOMO has helped Baker blossom is through trying new and exciting things even those closest to him are surprised he’d try.

“He’s one of those people who won’t even get up on a ladder,” his grandmother said with a chuckle. “It shocked me he was going to do this, but he said, ‘I told them I promised I’d do it so I’m gonna do it!’ Justin was so nonchalant about it.”

Justin Baker

Baker poses for a photo with SOMO Partnership Manager Stacy Jones on Oct. 12 while at the Over the Edge event in Jefferson City.

Baker spent his day off rappelling down the Jefferson State Office Building in Jefferson City Oct. 12 as part of the SOMO fundraiser with Over the Edge. All of the money raised directly supported other SOMO athletes.

“Diane Brimer (Central Area Director) had a sponsor (Diamond Pet Foods) who donated the money to get any athlete to go over and she thought of Justin,” Woods said. “I asked him and he was pretty nervous, but he did it. We were surprised, but so proud.”

Of everything that Baker has accomplished, Judy and the Baker family are most impressed with how helpful and outgoing Justin has become.

“If he can help somebody, he is wonderful,” Judy said. “He likes to help people. He teaches some of the other athletes and is proud of that. He’ll do anything anybody ever asks him.”

Artistic
In addition to excelling at sports such as bowling and track and field, Baker is a rather accomplished artist as well.

“He’s a really good artist,” Woods said. “He loves to draw. One of his goals … he says he likes to play that guitar so his goal is to become famous in the music industry.”

Brewer said Baker will often bring in some of his sketches to share with his co-workers.

“He also really enjoys writing poetry and song lyrics. It’s nice to see how he likes to write poetry and song lyrics. He’s a very talented guy,” Brewer said.

Mature
Growing up is never easy.

It’s not easy on the person doing the growing nor is it easy on the family dealing with said person.

Bowling Special Olympics 041

Baker, far right, poses for a photo with his fellow bowling teammates at a competition in 2008.

Since Baker started participating in Special Olympics Missouri more than 10 years ago, Judy said she’s seen a transition in him that was helped along because of SOMO.

“It’s a learning experience for all of us,” Judy said about raising a child with special needs. “We encourage him to do things, new things. I think he’s grown up a lot.”

One such recent instance of having to grow up is that Baker has been working for several years toward getting his driver’s license.

“He had a hard time getting his driver’s permit, but he finally got that and we’re going for the license now,” Judy said. “He drives with me on his way to and from work every day.

“We have family that really encourages him too. They all know his situation and like to encourage him.”

Judy said it hasn’t always been easy though.

“It’s sad that the circumstances he’s in, but we make the best of it,” she said. “He has his days sometimes, but we’ll let him know what he did wrong and talk to him about why he did this or said that; we talk it out.

“Practice makes it better.”

Judy said having such a close-knit family really helps.

The driver’s license will be one big step toward independence, but Judy said the biggest step for Baker could be right around the corner.

“He is looking forward to the day where he can get his own car and be off on his own,” she said. “That day might be coming sooner rather than later.

“We are incredibly proud of him and everything he has accomplished.”

That growth and maturity has also been seen by Brewer at work.

“Justin is still growing now. He’s a young guy and his personality and maturity level are still forming,” Brewer said.

Woods who, in addition to being his coach, is also the human resources manager at Baker’s work, said he takes his job very seriously; that wasn’t always the case though.

“He was in our children’s program when he was younger… he was kind of rambunctious as a kid, but he’s grown up so fast and now he’s a very dedicated person,” Woods said.

Judy said having a job has really brought the best out of Baker as well.

“At first he was really ‘It’s my way or forget it’ at work, but I think he’s learned to have more respect for his co-workers and bosses,” she said. “He respects them now because he knows what they say is right.”

From talking to Brewer, that respect goes both ways.

“I just hope that everybody knows what an effervescent personality he has. He always has a smile from ear to ear every time you see him,” Brewer said. “Not that he doesn’t take what he does seriously, but he’s just a happy guy.

“Everybody here on the crew enjoys having him around and we can count on him to keep that attitude up. That’s probably why someone nominated him (for the Special Olympics Missourian of the Month).

“You can’t help but smile with him around.”

Be a part of Team Missouri for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games!

Every four years, Special Olympics conducts a National Summer Games in the United States that includes athletes from all 52 US Programs. New Jersey is proud to have been selected as host of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, the Games of Welcome and Acceptance. The Games are set for June 14 – 21, 2014 and will feature 3,500 athletes from across the country.

logos galoreTeam Missouri will consist of 114 athletes and coaches in the following sports: aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, golf, powerlifting, tennis and volleyball.

This is an incredible opportunity to be part of something inspiring and energizing. The USA Games allow our athletes to showcase their skill on a national stage, which brings out their best both on and off the playing field. Look back at some of the memories that were made at the 2010 USA Games.

All athletes who achieve gold medals in the sports listed above at either the 2012 State Fall Games or the 2013 State Summer Games will be eligible to be nominated for a chance to be on Team Missouri.

Athletes may be nominated by anyone. The nominations must be sent to the Area Office and must be approved by the Area Director. Nomination forms are due by May 17, 2013. Download an athlete application.

Coaches may apply for any sport that they are certified to coach. The applications must be sent to the Area Office and be approved by the Area Director. Nomination forms are due by May 17, 2013. Download a coach application.

At the conclusion of the 2013 State Summer Games, athletes that have been nominated and coaches that have applied will be screened by SOMO staff and a selection of two or three people per slot will be invited to attend the National Games Selection Camp June 16 – 21, 2013. There will be 250 people selected to attend National Games Selection Camp.

At the conclusion of the National Games Selection Camp, 114 people will be selected by SOMO staff to represent Team Missouri.

In August or September of 2013, all participants will be required to attend a Team Missouri weekend with their parents or guardians.

In March of 2014, all delegates for Team Missouri will have a training weekend.

In May of 2014, all Team Missouri delegates will meet to try on and label their general wear and uniforms and train with their teammates.

Coaches are at the center of the Special Olympics Missouri movement

Most people know the saying: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

This disparaging adage about teachers and coaches doesn’t give people who dedicate their lives to educate and empower others enough credit. Special Olympics coaches are appreciated not just because of the dedication to their craft, but also for their willingness and patience to work with another forgotten and disparaged community — people with intellectual disabilities.

Obviously, the athletes are the blood of Special Olympics Missouri — the reason for the program — but the coaches are the arteries; they are the reason it is able to serve more than 16,700 athletes around the state of Missouri on a yearly basis.

SOMO simply couldn’t function without its coaches.

Two coaches who are really making a difference in mid-Missouri are Terri Hilt and Laura Wacker.

Different paths, same destination
Hilt and Wacker have been coaching or assisting with SOMO for 13 and 8 years respectively. While they’re now both coaching alongside each other on the Mid-Missouri Tiger Sharks swim team, they took different paths to get where they are today.

Hilt’s brother has been a Special Olympics athlete for more than 20 years. After seeing how much fun her brother had, Hilt wanted in on the action and has been doing it for the past 13 years.

“The athletes are my reason to keep doing it,” Hilt said. “If you’re having a bad day they can brighten you up. They’re always happy to see you. It’s like one huge family.”

Wacker has been a swimming coach for more than 30 years at high schools around Columbia and Stephens College, which is where she first started helping with SOMO athletes eight years ago.

After the Stephens College pool closed a few years ago, Wacker said SOMO was in need of another coach for the team.

“My (swimming team members) would work with some of the Special Olympics athletes as part of a giving project they did,” Wacker said. “That was just the beginning and I just kept working with them.

“There are these really great instances of joy while coaching. That’s not the kind of thing you have with every swim team. I have done it for two winters now and it’s been an awesome experience,” she said with a smile from ear to ear.

“I like working with athletes that are really willing to work. I like that the athletes are willing to be the best they can be and are very dedicated. They are very appreciative of the success they do have and really enjoy participating.”

Patience, not expertise, is key
With 21 Olympic-type sports offered by SOMO, there is something for everyone — athletes and coaches alike.

Both Wacker and Hilt agreed it doesn’t matter how much or little you know about a sport when you agree to become a SOMO coach. The SOMO coaching department has plenty of resources available to help new coaches understand a sport and its rules.

Terri Hilt, left, with her Unified Bocce team of Beth Brokamp, Sarah Byland and Jeanie Byland

Terri Hilt, left, with her Unified Bocce team of Beth Brokamp, Sarah Byland and Jeanie Byland

“I don’t really know all of the fundamentals, but I had wonderful assistants to help me with the things I don’t know and then I help them tweak that to apply it to the athletes,” Hilt said.

Having patience and the ability to quickly change lessons and adapt them to athletes’ needs are both more important to coaching than knowing the sport itself, according to Wacker and Hilt.

“You have to think outside of the box,” Hilt said. “You can’t be straight forward. If something isn’t working, you have to be willing to adapt.”

Wacker said, “I’ve been a coach of swimming for 30 years now, so I’m used to the scenario of coaching, but Special Olympics added another element. Not all of your instructions are going to be understood the first time. You might tell an athlete to do something and … they’ll take off and do whatever they think it is.

“You have to understand that each athlete is different and needs to be able to understand what you’re trying to convey — for each person, that’s going to be different. You might have to give instructions 10 different ways for everybody to understand what it is.”

A great way to help some of the athletes is leading with someone who has comprehended the instructions to show the others just how it is done, she said.

Hilt stressed the importance of really pushing the athletes past where they, and so many others, even thought they could go.

“A lot of coaches think (the athletes) are so cute — and that they can get away with anything,” Hilt said. “The athletes know that and will walk all over you if you let them, but I tell coaches to push the athletes. Because if you push them, they will (succeed).”

All in all, incoming coaches aren’t expected to know everything about their sport or even coaching in general; all of that can be taught to the coaches.

“It’s a real learning experience,” Hilt said. “I knew a lot because I grew up with my brother, but I didn’t know everything. I didn’t know how Special Olympics worked. Just getting involved doing volunteer work and at fundraisers … the more you get involved the more you benefit.”

Family ties
Whether you’re a coach, an athlete or a family, being involved with Special Olympics Missouri is like being a part of one big family. You aren’t alone in any of this.

In order for this kind of relationship to thrive, trust and communication are important at every level.

Leanna Krogmann with coach Laura Wacker

Leanna Krogmann with coach Laura Wacker

“There’s a lot of communication that goes on between parents and coaches and athletes…,” Wacker said. “A lot of times athletes aren’t able to convey what they’d like to achieve with you as much as they are with their parents. So you work with the athlete and the parent to kind of figure out their goals.”

“The parents are great resources in your coaching.”

Leanna Krogman, 29, has been a SOMO athlete since 2004; her mother Connie Dewey attributes most of the positive changes in her daughter’s life to SOMO and its coaches.

“She is much more outgoing and has developed social skills due to her involvement in Special Olympics,” Dewey said of her daughter.

“The experience offered by the activities has given her joy and happiness, providing endless opportunities to stay active and involved.”

As for the coaches, Dewey said Leanna, who swims for Wacker and Hilt, hangs on their every word.

“She truly looks up to them and thrives when she sees that they believe in her abilities,” she said.

“I appreciate their individual attention toward Leanna helping her to see her full potential. They can get her to do things a parent could never get their child to do!”

Why they do what they do
In all of her years of coaching swimming, Wacker said she has never been around a group of athletes who are just as happy cheering on their teammates as they are if they won themselves.

“They’re just very supportive of each other at practice and at meets,” Wacker said. “I coached high school swimming too and a lot of times we had to really tell the other athletes to cheer for the other people in the water and remind them they have teammates that need cheering.

“You don’t ever have to remind Special Olympics athletes to cheer for anyone else. They’re constantly cheering for their teammates. It’s one of their sources of joy as well as winning. They like to be cheered for, but they really like to cheer for other people.”

Looking back and seeing how far some of the athletes have come even in only a couple of years is what Hilt said keeps her coming back week after week to every practice and competition.

“I have an athlete in swimming right now — he started (two years ago) and was a real rope hugger,” Hilt said. “And now he’s 10 and swimming (100 meters consistently). The first time he got in the pool and swam a 25-meter, I cried. It was so hard to get him to swim and do all of the strokes that I cried the first time I saw him fly down the pool.

“To see them accomplish what most doctors told them they wouldn’t be able to do … it’s just awesome.”

To find out more information on becoming a Special Olympics coach, go to www.SOMO.org/coach.

Ray Lauer and Linda Wiederholt Inducted into SOMO Hall of Fame

The SOMO Hall of Fame was created in 1997 by the Board of Directors as a way to recognize longevity and achievement of athletes and volunteers within the organization. A voting committee, appointed by the SOMO Chairperson of the Board, is responsible for reviewing all nominations and voting on no more than two inductees in each category.  To be inducted, finalists must be named on 75% of the ballots. A permanent display, housed in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield, features photos of each year’s Special Olympics Missouri Hall of Fame inductees.

The 2012 inductees were announced Jan. 19 at our awards banquet in Branson, and they were enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 27 in Springfield. You can read the prerequisites and download a nomination form on our website.

Ray LauerRay Lauer, Hillsboro (volunteer)

As a Deputy Chief with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Ray became involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri in the early 1990s. He eventually became the Chair of the LETR, a position which he held for seven years. During that time, the LETR doubled the funds it raised in Missouri and reached the $1,000,000 mark for the first time. Also during his tenure, Missouri was chosen as host for the International LETR Conference. Hosted in St. Louis, the conference launched Missouri’s LETR permanently onto the international stage, setting a high bar for future international conferences.

After his retirement in October of 2003, he served on the Board of Directors until 2011. During that time, he served on the executive committee of the Board as secretary. He remains active in the LETR and on the St. Louis Over the Edge committee, as well as volunteering at the Polar Plunge.

ray andy bev lauerIt is through Ray’s quiet demeanor and selfless attitude that he has had the greatest impact. An intangible impact is that through his example, all of his children followed in his footsteps in many ways. All three sons and one daughter became involved, either by volunteering at events or fundraising. His son Matt served as a staff member and his son Paul won the Wheels for Winners Raffle in 2011. Ray’s involvement will continue as a fan of SOMO as his grandson, Andy, born in 2008 with Down syndrome, looks forward to one day being a Special Olympics athlete.

Linda WiederholtLinda Wiederholt, Kansas City (volunteer)

Besides time with her family or with her job as a 6th grade math teacher, the vast majority of Linda’s time and energy is spent enhancing SOMO.

Linda became involved with SOMO in the 1980s because her brother, Daniel Schieber, joined a program in the Northwest Area. Linda once said “Special Olympics for me has been giving back to a program that has made my brother’s life. Friendships have grown throughout the state so much that I now refer to Special Olympics families as my extended family.”

She has been actively involved in both the Northwest Area and in the Kansas City Metro Area for decades. She participates in every facet of Special Olympics, including coaching, fundraising, mentoring, leadership, planning committees and recruiting athletes, volunteers, Unified Partners and youth. Linda is a member of the KC Metro Games Management Team. Even if she is actively coaching a sport, she takes part as the GMT and is always the first person there to help set up an the last to leave. She coaches and attends SOMO’s Sports Camp each year in Mexico, Mo. Linda attends and assists with all major Missouri events each year, including district, regional and state competitions and Leadership Conference. She attends and assists with KC Metro Area fundraising including the Dare to Dream Golf Scramble, Broadway Bridge Run, Polar Plunge and fundraising for her team. She is an active adviser on the Youth Activation Committee and Project UNIFY. Linda prepared and trained athletes for the Special Olympics National Conference held in Kansas City in 2000 and was a Global Messenger trainer.

Brittany pose medal cropLinda has expanded the Park Hill district from seven athletes to more than 100, and she continues to seek out and take on more athletes every sports season. She has greatly expanded the sports program, coordinating basketball, softball, track and field, tennis, bocce, bowling, golf and soccer.

She has been recognized for her excellence within SOMO through winning the Outstanding Coach award in 2007. She was selected  twice to coach Team Missouri for National Games. Her birth family, the Schiebers, won Outstanding Family in 2001, and in 2012 her “married life” family, the Wiederholts, were nominated for Outstanding Family in the KC Metro Area.

Do you know someone deserving of this award? Download a nomination form for the athlete category or non-athlete category

2012 SOMO Annual Award Winners

Matt Cepeda, Emily Reyes, Terri Dallas and the Rash family were all recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2013 Leadership Conference Jan 19-20 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement throughout the past year. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were announced at the Leadership Conference.

Outstanding Athlete Matthew CepedaOUTSTANDING ATHLETE: Matthew Cepeda, Kansas City Metro Area

At competitions Matt can always been seen trying his hardest and cheering for others. What is most impressive about Matt is his ability to be a leader in his school. He has become a huge voice around Missouri, but especially in Kansas City, for recruiting youth volunteers. He is the chairman for his school’s Fan Club and is the co-chair of Missouri’s Youth Activation Council. Beyond all this, Matt gives 100 percent to whatever sport he is playing, which says volumes since he plays eight sports!

Outstanding Volunteer Emily ReyesOUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER: Emily Reyes, Southwest Area

During her freshman year in high school in 2005, Emily volunteered to help with her school’s Special Olympics team. After that introduction, he became certified to coach bowling, basketball and track. Since that time, she has served as a counselor at Athlete Sports Camp and participated in many special events. Emily recently finished her four year term on the National Youth Activation Council for Special Olympics, Inc. She’s traveled the country as part of this prestigious group. She continues to stay involved even while in college.

Outstanding Coach Terri DallasOUTSTANDING COACH: Terri Dallas, St. Louis Metro Area

For the past 25 years, Terri has coached SOMO athletes. She has brought countless athletes out of their shell and introduced them to a new way to make friends and build confidence through sports. She organizes and coaches six sports and hundreds of athletes in Jefferson County. When one of Terri’s athletes qualified for the 2011 World Games in bocce, Terri was inspired to begin fundraising for a state-of-the-art bocce court for all the athletes through her program.

Outstanding Family RashOUTSTANDING FAMILY: The Rash family, Northwest Area 

The success of the Lake Viking Polar Plunge is due in large part to the Rash Family. Six years ago they stepped up to start the plunge at Lake Viking. Both Judy and James pour their heart and soul into the planning and fundraising for this event. James has become a coach for their son Pierce’s basketball and flag football teams. The whole family continues to seek new ways to improve our program and offer opportunities for everyone to participate.

Congratulations to all of our winners! Their outstanding contributions helped make this a great year for Special Olympics Missouri.

Being a Special Olympics Coach

Kathy Lowry is a Special Olympics coach in the Kansas City Metro Area.

King and Queen at William Chrisman’s Special Olympics Prom

I have been a Special Olympics coach for 18 years, and the past five years have been at William Chrisman High School.  This has been sort of a challenge because, even though I am a Special Education teacher, I do not teach my athletes.  I actually co-teach Algebra 1 and Intermediate Algebra, where I work with the Learning Disabled students. 

I have been very blessed to have parents who are very willing to be involved.  Before I came to Chrisman, their program was primarily whatever they could fit in during school hours.  The belief was that parents would not be very accepting of conducting practices outside of school hours, particularly on the weekends.  That has not been the case.  Because we have been able to expand our program to having practices outside of school hours, our program has doubled over the past five years.  Our athletes participate in bocce, golf, bowling, basketball and athletics, and we plan on adding tennis next year.  We also have athletes who participate with the Jackson County Parks & Rec team in softball and floor hockey.  

William Chrisman High School’s Homecoming Parade

We don’t just play sports either – we have parties and picnics, too.  For the second year in a row, we will have a float in the Homecoming Parade.  We go to sports clinics and attend MU games.  I have even had to pay up on promising a Chinese lunch to an athlete who performed over and beyond at a competition, two times!

Part of the growth we have experienced has been due to the Special Olympics Fan Club.  This club consists mainly of general education students with a few higher functioning athletes.  They plan and conduct fundraisers, participate in the Polar Plunge, have seasonal parties for the athletes, plan and promote activities for the R-Word day, and organize a very elaborate dance (Prom) for the end of the year.  The climate at Chrisman has always been very accepting of the cognitively impaired students, but that acceptance and inclusion has grown over the past few years, in part due to the Fan Club and their activities.  Currently, we are promoting that the athletes at Chrisman are not just Special Olympics athletes, but they are Chrisman athletes who participate in Special Olympics.  It is all a part of being accepted and included in our high school setting.  

Receiving William Chrisman letters for participation in Special Olympics

One thing that shows the inclusion is that athletes who participate in Special Olympics can earn school letters, like any other extracurricular activity offered.  Chrisman High School is rivals with Truman High School, and they are both Independence high schools.  Whenever we play Truman in any sport, it is a big deal.  That also includes the rival basketball game played by the Special Olympics basketball teams at each school.  Both schools can fill a gym with general education students, cheer leaders, and dance teams, who are all there to support their school team.  We have had a little bit of difficulty getting Chrisman’s StuCo involved with our athletes.  Currently, one of our athletes is taking the Leadership class and has become a part of Chrisman’s student council, which is one more step in the right direction.

Watching our athletes at the Summer Games this past year was truly inspiring.  We have a range of abilities from high functioning athletes, taking general education classes, to athletes in our severe and profound program.  They interact with each other, keeping each other entertained and making sure not to leave anyone out.  They cheer each other on during all of their events.  Both make sure that everyone is always together and watching out for each other.  They are truly a team on and off the court.

William Chrisman’s Fan Club logo

I thoroughly enjoy working with my athletes.  I look forward to my time with them.  They inspire me to have a positive outlook on life.  As they push themselves to learn and become better athletes, they push me, as well, to become not only a better coach, but a better person.  They can always put a smile on my face.  But, of course, Alec’s greeting of “Hello, Dahling!!” is enough to make anyone’s day.