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).

2015 World Games: Day 6 — Bobby stays hot, Canada wins 2nd matchup

This is the fifth 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.


Despite their appetite for revenge after losing to Canada just a few days ago, our softball team fell in a much closer match-up Thursday 15-13. In the afternoon, Bobby and his partner from California, Jeff Scott, received their gold medals for doubles competition and later that evening they had the opportunity to play Unified tennis with tennis legend Pete Sampras and other athletes and celebrities!

DSC_0935 DSC_0932 DSC_0874No surprise that the softball team got off to ANOTHER slow start with a morning game (10 a.m. local start time) as they worked a lead-off walk in the top of the 1st, but then went down in order with three weak ground balls. Canada would then put up 11 runs (yes, 11) in the bottom half of the inning, most of which were before the guys could even record an out. It certainly wasn’t how the team wanted to start the game and quite a few of them were hanging their heads as they came off the field to take their at-bats in the top of the 2nd. Coach Shaffer did everything she could to get the guys to forget about what happened and reiterate that the game was far from over. They donned their rally hats early and often Thursday and and it nearly worked.

They scored 8 runs in the top of the inning and had a chance with the bases loaded and two outs to tie the game or take the lead in the inning, but Canada finally stopped the bleeding and headed to the bottom half of the 2nd with a four run lead. They would get four runs back in the bottom of the inning to extend their lead and while our guys would eventually pull within two runs, the time limit was running out on them after they couldn’t tie the game in the top of the 3rd. The game ended 15-13, but what was most impressive was the guys didn’t give up despite being down by such a large amount after only the 1st inning.DSC_0939 (Copy)

Arthur Murphy and James Johnson continued their hot streaks at the plate as Arthur hit a homerun down the left-field line and James barely missed one off the top of the wall in right. Arthur just BARELY missed a HR off the top of the wall the day before, so it was cool to see him deposit one over the fence on Thursday.

Immediately after the softball team’s game, we rushed over just in time to catch the majority of Bobby’s singles match vs. Italy. As usual, Bobby was just amazing. Having the media credential allows me to be on the outside of the court during the game and it also allows me to really see up close and appreciate how great he is at tennis. I’ve played him a handful of times at Sports Camp in the past and he kills me every time. That’s not saying much because I’m not good at tennis, but he just has this way of picking his spots on when to be aggressive and when to let his opponent make the mistake rather than force the issue himself. He was superb today and won a closer match than the final score of 6-2, 6-4 indicates.

Bobby and Jeff pose for a photo with tennis legend Pete Sampras

Bobby and Jeff pose for a photo with tennis legend Pete Sampras

Bobby high-five Sampras

Bobby high-five Sampras

Bobby and Jeff celebrate their gold medal

Bobby and Jeff celebrate their gold medal

DSC_0941 (Copy)Earlier this week, three of our softball guys were able to take part in a Unified softball experience with professional ball players and celebrities and on Thursday night Bobby had that same opportunity for tennis. Originally it was only supposed to be two USA athletes, but four more spots opened up and Bobby was selected. Going in we had no idea who would be there and/or who he’d end up playing with, but lucky for Bobby he was able to play with tennis legend Pete Sampras! They did these Unified Sports experiences in New Jersey for the 2014 USA Games and I think they’re one of the best aspects of a World Games or USA Games. They allow our athletes to just relax and play the sport they love with people they look up to, many of which probably don’t have much experience interacting with people with intellectual disabilities. It was so awesome to watch Bobby smile ear to ear the whole time he was playing with Sampras. All thirteen of our Missouri boys have been spoiled this week with special experiences like this and I’m sure none will forget anytime soon.

Schedule
Friday, July 31:
1 p.m. softball vs. Canada with a berth in the gold medal game on the line #ThirdTimeIsTheCharm 
Saturday, Aug. 1:
10 a.m. Bobby’s singles match vs. Russia for the gold medal; softball TBD

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).

2015 World Games: Day 5 — Missouri’s first medal!

This is the fifth 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.

While Sarah and I were enjoying a day off at the museums, stores and beaches around southern California, our good ole’ Missouri boys were busy kicking butt at UCLA.

Bobby Williams, second from left, poses for a photo with his coaches and his doubles partner Jeff Scott from California. Thanks to Bobby's mom for the photo!

Bobby Williams, second from left, poses for a photo with his coaches and his doubles partner Jeff Scott from California. Thanks to Bobby’s mom for the photo!

First up was Bobby Williams who took to the court with Jeff Scott from California vs. Switzerland early this morning and dominated them winning 6-1, 6-1 and were in command the whole way. Their gold-medal match came in the afternoon against Belgium and Bobby’s mom said it was a great one. After falling behind in the first set 4-0, they came all the way back to win 6-4. They dropped the second set 4-6, but won in a close tiebreak 10-8 for the gold medal! Bobby’s mom said he and Jeff, despite not playing together in doubles before World Games, played really well together and Bobby had some really great shots. The guys will receive their gold medals at 2 p.m. on Thursday. We’re so proud of you, Bobby!

Bobby’s singles match will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday.

The softball team played Mexico again for the second time in two days and while this game was closer than the first, our guys still won 16-13. Coach Shaffer said the team started much better today than in past games and led 5-4 after the 1st. The game was a tense one with the US leading after three innings 14-7, but they failed to shut the door on Mexico and scored 0 runs in the 4th, while Mexico plated 6, bringing it to 14-13 US after four innings. Robin Anderson said she was nearly having a heart attack in the stands, the game was so close, but in the end, our guys added two runs in the top of the 5th and held Mexico to 0 in the bottom to end the game 16-13.

Coach Shaffer said James Johnson continued his hot streak at the plate with two hits in the game, while the defense overall was pretty good. What mistakes did happen weren’t followed by other mistakes and that was key. The team was able to put the errors behind them quickly and move on.

They look for revenge against the only team to beat them so far this week: Canada. The game is at 10 a.m. at UCLA.

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).

2015 World Games: Day 4 — An Experience They’ll Never Forget

This is the fourth 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.

Competing at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games and representing the red, white and blue is something that all 13 Missouri athletes (12 softball and one tennis) will never forget, but I think it’s the off-field/off-court activities that our guys are going to remember more than anything. Today the softball team was afforded on such opportunity — to attend a Los Angeles Dodgers game and be on the field during batting practice.

But before they could do the fun stuff, they had business to attend to — a match-up vs. Bharat (India).

DSC_0778 (2)This team is nothing if they aren’t consistent and they have consistently (from scrimmages vs. Arizona and Southern California earlier in the week and throughout the first three games against Australia, Canada and Mexico) been a slow-starting team. In divisioning, teams bat through their entire order in the first inning, so organizers can get a good look at everyone to make sure they end up in the right division against comparable competition.

So far, the guys have consistently been behind teams following the 1st inning because of fielding/throwing errors and untimely hitting. They were down 11-4 vs. Canada, 7-3 vs. Mexico and 7-4 vs. India again on Tuesday. Then they’re forced to try and claw their way back in it and it’s worked out pretty well against everyone but Canada so far. That trend continued Tuesday with India scoring 7 in the first inning and leading 7-4 at the end of the 1st.

The guys had great pitching and defense in the 2nd inning and forced India to go three up, three down. Then at the plate USA scored eight straight runs to begin their half of the inning and they were able to hold onto a huge 12-10 win.DSC_0773

Coaches mentioned that they’ve noticed their team starts out flat, but they’re kind of at a loss as to how to change it at this point — “it’s just who they are,” said coach Stan Smith with a smile. “We just need to fight through it.”

“I really do think their heads were elsewhere today, especially with them going to the Dodgers game following their game,” coach Dana Griesinger said. “It’s all they talked about this morning.”

Following divisioning play, they’ve now been placed in the 2nd division with Canada and Mexico. They will play Mexico at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and Canada at 10 a.m. Thursday.

We’ll get to their Dodger Stadium experience in a bit, but first, how did Bobby fare on Tuesday?

Bobby and his doubles partner Jeff Scott from California lost both matches vs. Costa Rica and Belgium. His mom said that she missed nearly all of the matches because they were stuck in traffic for two hours. Have you ever heard people talk about LA traffic? Yeah, it’s that bad.

She got the rundown from the coaches who said Bobby and Jeff also got off to a slow start on Tuesday and while they did a good job of finishing strong, it put them in a hole that was too hard for them to dig out of completely. Bobby and Jeff are set to begin their competition schedule today now that divisioning is completed. They play at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday at the UCLA Tennis Center. Good luck Bobby and Jeff!

Immediately following the win vs. India, the softball guys hurried to the locker room to change and hop on the bus that was arranged for them. Because they had plenty of time, the bus took the long way and traveled all the way down Sunset Boulevard where guys could ooh and ahh at the multi-million dollar homes. A few freaked out when they saw some guy from the TV show Storage Wars driving an old car in front of us. I’ve personally never seen the show to tell you one way or another, but Tim Kunz was adamant it was him and was really excited.

DSC_0107 (Copy) (Copy)

Mark McGwire talks to the guys

Mark McGwire talks to the guys

High fives with Joc Pederson

High fives with Joc Pederson

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly with Allen Cameron

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly with Allen Cameron

Group photo with Billy Butler

Group photo with Billy Butler

Group photo with Andre Ethier

Group photo with Andre Ethier

Once we arrived at the stadium, we took a few photos and then headed inside where we were met by Dodgers PR/Marketing staff and two people from a TV crew who mic’ed up Jason Parrish for the experience. He was a little hesitant at first, but we couldn’t have picked a better athlete and all-around person to be on camera representing USA and Missouri.

You know the guys are in awe of what they’re experiencing when the most talkative guys on the team who NEVER shut up are silent. As soon as we stepped on the field most of them just stood there, not saying a word, just soaking it all in. So many of them knew the players (from both teams) that were in front of them and could tell you their statistics for the year. Again, it’s just another way to show that sports as a whole means so much to them. Sure it’s nice to compete and win, but it’s more about that shared experience and they can relate to a lot of what professional athletes deal with just on a smaller scale.

Several players and coaches came over to greet the team and take photos with them including Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier, Don Mattingly and more. The two guys who got the largest cheers though were former Cardinals great Mark McGwire (hitting coach for the Dodgers) and former Royals player Billy Butler (now with the Oakland Athletics). They were SO excited when they saw them and kept yelling their names until they came over to say hi. No matter who it was that came over to see them, it wasn’t a quick photo and then they left, they were genuinely interested in how the softball games were going, asking who the hardest hitter on the team was (Jason Parrish), the fastest player on the team (Tyler Scott), etc. It was a ton of fun getting to see them just be like anyone else and forget about everything else that’s going on in their lives right now and just be able to talk athlete-to-athlete.

I was really hoping that Joc Pederson (one of the best young players in the game and probably leading candidate for National League Rooking of the Year) would come over because he could relate even more to the guys than most because his older brother has Down syndrome and competes in Special Olympics. You also might remember him from this touching moment during this year’s Home Run Derby. Of course, some of the guys already knew this and instead of “talking shop” and asking him about hitting or fielding and getting tips, they asked more questions about his brother. I think Pederson appreciated that the guys were genuinely interested him his story.

I know I’ll never forget that moment, not because it was cool for me to be down on the field and meet the players (which it totally was 🙂 ) but because the looks on all of their faces were priceless as they took the field and player after player came over to meet them.

The game itself was meh with the Dodgers losing 2-0 and only getting three hits, but our guys were treated like royalty and I know it’s an experience they’ll never forget and we’re all greatly appreciative of Justin Turner and the Dodgers staff making this happen.

This post is already more than 1,300 words, so I’ll end it here and just to let you know, Thursday’s post is going to be a little light because we’re taking the day off to do some touristy things, but we’ll still have information on how Bobby and the softball team fare on Wednesday.

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).

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.

Randy Boehm named SOMO Volunteer of Year, others honored

All of the volunteers 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.

Randy Boehm — Headquarters nominee
Randy Boehm has proven himself as an invaluable leader within the LETR program. He presently serves on the LETR Committee, having chaired it for 10 years. He is a torch runner turned region coordinator, where he served for 10 years. Then he stepped into the committee chair role and during the next 10 years it went from a good LETR program to an excellent LETR program. During this same time, Randy also became a part of the SOMO Board of Directors. He served the organization starting in 2006 and influenced decisions and governed. Two of these years he was both Board Chair as well as the LETR Chair. He always kept the needs and impact of SOMO’s athletes in mind. He was the Strategic Planning Council Chair for 2009 – 2010 and the Vice Chair for 2009 – 2010. He served as the Chairman of the Board in 2011 and 2012. Randy also led the LETR movement to join in support of the Training for Life Campus Capital Campaign by championing a commitment of $1 million over five years to support this new training facility. He also served from November 2008 to November 2013 as the regional coordinator of the International LETR Executive Council. In this role, he served as the liaison to five other states with communication and collaboration a focus. This region was always a leader in fundraising results compared to other regions.

Linda Tyler — St. Louis Metro Area
Linda Tyler started her SOMO experience as a coach for Wentzville Special Sports and fell in love with the program and our athletes. Even while completing graduate-level classes in 2014, she attends so many events as a volunteer within the St. Louis Metro Area and statewide. After learning the rules of sports such as bowling and basketball, Linda is always the first to offer her help as an event manager at local and area events. She will travel on her own dollar to state games and volunteer multiple days in a row, always serving as a smiling face to athletes and a helping hand to staff. After being selected as a Unified Partner in bocce for the 2014 USA Games, Linda agreed to take on a major fundraiser to benefit the coaches and athletes from the St. Louis area traveling to this event. With limited assistance, Linda coordinated multiple concession stands at this year’s regional basketball tournament, purchasing the supplies, creating the menu and finding the volunteers to help.

Charlie Aiken — Southwest Area
Charlie Aiken is one of those volunteers you can really count on. He will drop anything to help SOMO. He is friendly and kind-hearted. Whenever help is needed, he volunteers his time without hesitation. Charlie has many helpful contacts and resources to offer SOMO that he doesn’t mind reaching out to. He always works hard to get the job done and does a good job at it. Every year for Area Spring Games, Charlie donates his time and trailer to help us load and haul all the equipment we need for the games. He helps organize and implement fundraisers such as the Unified bocce tournament. Charlie will even stand out in the blazing heat to cook hundreds of hamburgers and hotdogs all while keeping a smile on his face and cracking jokes.

Jen Rose — Southeast Area
Jen Rose is about as consistent of a volunteer as they come. She helped coordinate volunteers and was a venue coordinator at area basketball, district basketball and Area Spring Games in both Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau. She served on the Polar Plunge committee and was a key part of its success. Jen attended and helped with State Basketball Championships in the Kansas City area. Previously, for four years she served on the Games Management Team for the State Fall Games in Cape Girardeau, where she was in charge of volunteers as well as helping with every aspect of the games. On late notice, Jen agreed to help with the area bowling tournament in Cape in the fall and stepped up in the fundraising category to have Southeast Area Special Olympics be the benefactor from one of the Cape Girardeau Roller Girls Bouts in Cape. Jen is employed by Southeast Missouri State University and has made a commitment to help Special Olympics Missouri as often as she can. She held up this commitment for many years, this year being no exception. Jen has sacrificed a lot of personal time and work time on some occasions to do this. She gives to the organization because of pure desire and choice. Volunteers like this are hard to find!

Amanda Geno — KC Metro Area
Amanda Geno is one of those volunteers that the KC Metro Area staff knows it can turn to in a pinch, no matter if it is on the program or development side. She is active in all areas of the program. Amanda serves on the area GMT for all sports and when there are regional GMTs in the Kansas City area, she is the first to step up and help. She is a Unified Partner and recently attended USA Games as a Unified Partner in bowling. Amanda has also been a great mentor/role model for many of our athletes. She takes time out of her day to be there and help them or even just listen when they need a friend. Amanda serves as the Torch Run coordinator for her law enforcement agency. She was very involved in LETR prior to her becoming her agency coordinator. She sold T-shirts, participated in the annual Torch Run, served at many Tip-A-Cop events and has attended many annual LETR International Conferences representing her agency. Amanda was the driving force behind creating a citywide Torch Run route for Kansas City. Amanda has been on the Polar Plunge committee since joining the Lee’s Summit Police Department. In 2014, the event chair stepped down after eight years. The Plunge committee asked many people to step up and chair this amazing committee but no one was willing to make the time commitment. Amanda was already involved in all aspects of SOMO, but she saw a need and stepped up to chair the Polar Plunge committee.

Missy Ash — Central Area
Missy Ash is the center of the Hermann program! She sends out letters to all the participating schools, raises the funds through local company and civic organization donations, ensures that each athlete competing has a commemorative T-shirt to wear for the day in various colors (by the schools) and helps recruit volunteers.
Through her vision, this event has grown to this year host 134 athletes, 50 Young Athletes and 100 volunteers. Through Missy’s contact, she was able to secure the local Mason Lodge which not only donates all the food for the team lunches, but also gives back money and runs the concession stand. In six years, Missy was able to grow this event from three schools in 2007 to 11 schools in 2014. One of the most touching things that this event has done is that it has brought the idea to other communities. A teacher who was involved in the early years at Hermann with Missy moved to another school district and last year that school district became involved.

Lynett Bingaman — North Area
Lynett is involved in several aspects of the North Area program. She has served on the Plunge Committee for the past four years, she is the official money counter of the Plunge, she recruited several new volunteers to help with the Plunge registration process, she has served as a volunteer at the many of our program events and she partnered with us in the Duck Race for three years. Lynett is a whirlwind of new ideas, always researching new fundraising events, matching grants and grants in general that SOMO can apply for. If she hears about an opportunity for a non-profit, she calls and informs staff as well. Lynett works full time for another non-profit organization, but she will share her resources, knowledge, time and talent to help Special Olympics and the athletes. She wears her heart on her sleeve and always has the best intentions for our athletes.

Mandie Bowman of North Area named best SOMO coach, others honored

All of the coaches 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.

Mandie Bowman — North Area
Mandie Bowman was an assistant coach for many years and now has progressed to be the liaison for all the schools within the St. Joseph School District. Mandie is one of the most energetic coaches as she has taken her coaching responsibilities a step further by setting up Fan Clubs. She is the voice in the St. Joseph School District when it is budget time, and she helps by recruiting volunteers for YAP. She helps utilize the school district and the facilities more than the North Area program has ever done in the past. Without Mandie’s help, we would not be utilizing the SJSD and the facilities as we are today. Mandie was instrumental in starting the T.U.F. Club at Truman Middle School, which stands for Truman United Fans. They hold pep rallies prior to events, decorate the athletes’ lockers, help with fundraisers, become Unified Partners and have volunteered at local and area events.

Keith Patterson — Southwest Area
Keith Patterson has been a coach for more than 10 years. He coaches bowling, basketball and athletics for the Neosho School District. Besides being a volunteer coach, he is also a Unified Partner and volunteer official. Keith has been known to do all three in one day if he is needed. He loves watching his athletes fill with joy as they receive their medals. He always has a smile on his face and positive words to say. He continues to grow the school’s Unified Sports program every year. Over the past few years, Keith has done an outstanding job helping with the area basketball tournament. He gets the gym space, officials and volunteers. He has also taken it upon himself to get shirts for every athlete who attends. Last summer, Keith coached the Team Missouri women’s basketball team at the USA Games in New Jersey. He worked hard to unite athletes from across the state to play as a team; and as a team they proudly brought home the silver medal. Keith is also very involved in the local Polar Plunge.

Jeff Partridge — Southeast Area
Jeff Partridge first realized how important Special Olympics is when his son Ryan became involved in the program. He began by helping the Rebels team with basketball, eventually becoming their head coach. Basketball led into softball and softball led into bowling. Jeff has a real desire to see his team improve and excel. With Jeff, there is no off-season. He is a true leader and friend to his athletes. They all look up to him and work hard on and off the court to be the best they can be for him. Jeff is the Chief Engagement Officer of the YMCA of Southeast Missouri. This is a wonderful facility in the Southeast Area and Jeff invites our teams in to practice or work out for whatever season they are preparing for. Jeff has also become instrumental in assisting us with the Young Athletes Program.

Sheri Morris — St. Louis Metro Area
As a physical therapist at St. Charles Habilitation Center, Sheri Morris directly sees the social and physical benefits that Special Olympics offers her clients and is constantly pushing them to be involved in as much as possible. She escorts athletes to Blues and Rams games with tickets that have been donated to SOMO, she is at every weekend Field Day that her athletes might enjoy, and she makes sure athletes and staff are at every program event possible. Some of Sheri’s clients participate in aquatics with another coach and she’s always there cheering on her friends, even though she is not coaching them!

Dee Peterson — Central Area
When Dee Peterson first started with Special Olympics, she was a special education teacher and wanted a chance for her students to participate. Time went on and Dee moved to a “regular” education classroom, but not giving up her love for her former students and Special Olympics, she stayed on as the coach for Laquey Schools. Previously, Laquey athletes only competed in the area bowling tournament and the Area Spring Games. Wanting to give them a chance to experience something new, she asked for them to compete in the state bowling tournament. With her help, the Buckhorn Local Bowl was born. What went from a little local bowl has now evolved into a Unified Team Local Bowl! Later, she was interested in basketball, so the Unified 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament was born! In mid-March, small schools from the area put together Unified 3-on-3 teams and come over to Laquey Middle School to compete against each other.

Venessa McCloud — KC Metro Area
Venessa McCloud began volunteering for Special Olympics winter sports in 1989 while working at Snow Creek in Weston. Moving to Platte County Board of Services (PCBS) in 1992, she saw the need to provide the full range of recreational and athletic opportunities to those who predominantly live in group homes. Twenty-five years later, Venessa is the glue that holds the PCBS Special Olympics program together. She has been instrumental in the development of the SOMO program for PCBS, putting in the extra time and effort required. She is fully qualified as a head coach for basketball, track and field, bowling, golf, swimming, skiing, bocce and snowshoe racing. As a qualified CPR and First Aid instructor, Venessa ensures all coaches and volunteers meet the medical training required to participate in SOMO sports. She has actively recruited, trained and mentored the athletes, parents, volunteers and other coaches in an exceptionally run SOMO program that successfully meets the needs of more than 60 PCBS athletes year-round.

Gardner busts down stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities

One of the many great aspects about Special Olympics Missouri is how it breaks down stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities.

Nobody is more emblematic of just how well our athletes can smash through those stereotypes with hard work and persistence than Southeast Area athlete Logan Gardner.

‘Continued to fight’

Gardner, 20, was playing sports with younger athletes in Sikeston because of his size until he was 15. That was until his mother Melody heard about Special Olympics Missouri.

“In Logan’s earlier years, it was hard,” Melody said regarding what it’s been like raising a child with special needs. “Logan had to have someone with him at all times. Logan struggled in school and the local community.

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Logan Gardner poses for a photo with a law enforcement officer at a local tennis competition.

“But we continued to fight for him and let people know that Logan was a person as well and we weren’t going to sit back and let him be excluded. We continued to put him in sports and over time people have come to know him and accept him no matter what.”

Not only has SOMO taught Logan the meaning of sportsmanship and acceptance, but what is needed to excel in life disability or no.

 

Positivity is key

“Logan has grown and developed into a wonderful athlete that gives 110 percent,” Melody said. “He is a very positive person.”

The positivity is something others, including his coaches, have caught onto.

“He’s just one of the friendliest and happiest athletes we’ve got,” said bowling coach Peggy Berryhill. “He always wants to be around everybody. … He loves to joke around and always has a high-five for everybody no matter what’s going on.”

She said he’s always willing to listen to what you have to say even if he doesn’t always do what he’s told.

“He’s pretty hard-headed,” Berryhill, his coach of four years, said with a laugh. “He knows what he wants to do, but he’s very determined to stick with whatever is placed in front of him.”

Track and field coach Stan Smith said he would categorize Gardner as “squirrely.”

“He’s enthusiastic about doing things,” Smith said. “I’ve always found him friendly and willing to listen. He’s a lot of fun. … He’s real fun-loving – he jokes around with the guys.”

 

‘Willing to help’

Southeast Area Development Director Penny Williams said Gardner is one of the best multi-sport athletes in the area citing that he participates in basketball, bowling, softball, track and field and tennis.

“He is a team leader among all of his teammates. Logan is a very kind-hearted person who has given as much to the program as much as the program has given to him,” Williams said. “He is always willing to help in any way that he can. His kind attitude becomes reflected in everyone he comes in contact with.”

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Gardner poses for a photo while at a SOMO bowling competition.

One such way that Gardner shows his dedication in giving back to the program that serves him is by taking part in the annual Polar Plunge in Cape Girardeau as a part of the Sikeston Guns N Hose team.

When they first heard about the Plunge four years ago, Melody said they thought it was a great way “for Logan to show others that athletes can give back just as much as anyone.”

“So we rallied together and took the chance,” she said. “He loved it and this year was the only athlete in our local area to Plunge.”

Gardner said he Plunges because “it’s fun,” but has no shame in admitting it’s “cold, cold water.”

 

Dance machine

As much as Gardner loves competing in sports, especially his favorite sport bowling, there might be one thing he enjoys even more.

“He enjoys his sports,” Berryhill said, “but he has a good time at the dance; he loves to dance.”

Because, Gardner said, they allow him to “party all night long.”

Lee’s Summit cop perfect role model for athletes, other Unified Partners

This is the fourth 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 KC Metro Area has singled out coach Amanda Geno of Lee’s Summit as the January Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Fitting in can sometimes be troublesome, especially if people think they don’t have any shared commonalities.

Therein lie a potential difficulty in growing the Unified Partners® program in Special Olympics Missouri – but only if the focus is on peoples’ differences instead of their similarities.

Unified Sports® is an inclusive program that pairs individuals with intellectual disabilities (SOMO athletes) and individuals without IDs (partners) on sports teams for training and competition in 21 Olympic-type sports divisioned by age and ability.

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Amanda Geno, left, accepts an award from Kansas City Metro Area Regional Development Director Kami Delameter.

It might seem like growing such a program would be difficult, but only if someone focuses on the differences. It doesn’t take too long, however, to see there are many more similarities between our athletes and our Unified Partners than differences.

If there’s one person who could be considered the poster girl for ignoring the differences and highlighting the similarities between athletes and UPs, it’s UP and Lee’s Summit Police Officer Amanda Geno.

“Amanda is awesome,” said coach Bea Webb of the Jackson County Parks and Rec Special Population Services team. “She has become a big sister, a role model to the guys and girls of our team.  She’s just a great young lady; she’s dignified, but laughs and jokes with them as if she was one of them.”

Geno, 29, is one of them. As a UP, she’s considered a Special Olympics athlete – and her fellow athletes love her.

“She’s a lot of fun,” said SOMO Athlete Brittany Selken. “She wants to be around all of the time.”

Selken, 23, and Geno have been partners for a little more than a year in softball and bowling. Selken has already taken a liking to Geno, mainly because of her authenticity.

“She’s just so understanding, loveable, caring and there for you when you need somebody to talk to,” Selken said. “When my mom passed away she was there for me to talk to and understand what I was going through.”

Geno said the experience of being a UP is what you make of it.

“It’s hard to decide what I most enjoy as a UP,” Geno said. “ Sometimes I laugh until I cry and sometimes they laugh out loud at me when I trip over the ball return or do something goofy. I also enjoy how excited they are to see me and are always quick to ask how my weekend was or how I’ve been.

“I’m proud to introduce and claim my partners and team. I make them a part of my life outside of SOMO.”

‘Almost like it was meant to be’

Geno first became involved with Special Olympics in 2002 after selecting her college sorority based on its already-existing relationship with Special Olympics.

She went on to help a Special Olympics wheelchair slalom team practice with her college cross country team.

Following college, Geno became a police officer and joined the Law Enforcement Torch Run®, which helped further the cause in Geno’s eyes.

“It’s almost like it was meant to be!” she said.


Staying busy

In the past few years, Geno has gone out of her way to become more involved with SOMO. Fellow Lee’s Summit police officer Mark Wiesemann said Geno has been pushing to do more with the LETR.

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Geno takes pride in not just competing and volunteering for SOMO athletes, but fundraising for them as well as is seen in this photo of her taking part in the Over the Edge fundraiser.

“What separates her from other officers involved in LETR is that she goes to many more events,” Wiesemann said. “Whether it’s to pass out medals or to participate as a Unified Partner® … she has also helped coordinate a Torch Run and also assists both in the planning and set-up of the Polar Plunge.”

Kami Delameter, regional development director for SOMO, said Geno is the embodiment for  what LETR is all about.

“Amanda is a wonderful representation of our partnership with law enforcement,” Delameter said. “She has embraced SOMO in all aspects – torch runner, Plunge committee member, (Games Management Team) member and general event-day volunteer.

“She’s gotten her mom and boyfriend (another law enforcement officer) involved with volunteering also.”

Geno said she wanted to serve on the games management teams because she can be the voice of the athletes and make sure they are heard in the planning of events in and around the KC Metro Area events.

“I wanted to serve on several GMTs because I know the athletes; I know what’s important to them; I know what they like and don’t like,” she said. “I decided to join the Plunge committee because the KC Metro Area Plunge is the best. It has been run by a Lee’s Summit officer for the last 10 years, and it is just another way to be involved by creating awareness and raising funds for the athletes.”

Coach Webb said this push to become immersed in the behind-the-scenes aspect of SOMO is what makes Geno so invaluable.

“She surrounds herself in our program,” Webb said. “I asked her why and she didn’t even hesitate to say, ‘It’s a part of my life.’

“It’s a part of her.”
A little MO Magic

In June 2013, Geno took part in SOMO’s USA Games Selection Camp at the Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo. She qualified for the bowling team and will compete alongside fellow athlete Tiffany Wright at the 2014 USA Games, June 14-21, in New Jersey.

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Geno, right, poses for a photo with SOMO athlete Tanya Johnson after they received a gold medal at a local bowling competition.

This will be the first time Geno will compete at a national level for Special Olympics Missouri and it’s safe to say she’s a little excited about the opportunity.

“I’m learning as I go, and I’m pretty sure I’m just as excited as the athletes,” Geno said. “I’m proud to be their voice if they need it, their shoulder to cry on when things get tough and an encouraging voice when they are having a bad game.

“After I was nominated by (coach Webb), I wanted to join the team because the athletes know I’m there for them and want the absolute best for them. And on the same hand, they know I expect nothing but the best through a lot of hard work. I wanted to experience the opportunities these athletes will have all thanks to Special Olympics.”

So, why did coach Webb pick Geno as a Unified Partner® for the Team Missouri bowling team?

“The fact that she’s an officer, I thought it’d be great to have a volunteer officer on the team and how she gets along so well with all of the other bowlers,” Webb said.

“I noticed one day at bowling practice she was tutoring an athlete in their schoolwork in between taking turns bowling. She’s very respectful to the athlete and herself.”

Geno said she wants to go to New Jersey so badly that she would have taken any spot on Team Missouri, regardless of the sport.

“The athletes put a smile on my face and teach me to be a better person every minute I’m around them,” she said. “I can’t wait to go on this journey with them. And then when I return to Missouri, I can’t wait to tell all of my family, friends and co-workers about the experience, hoping to spark an interest in volunteering!”