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).

Advertisements

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 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).

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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!”

Looking Back: 1978 Softball Tournament

Gary Brimer is the Chief Sports Officer for SOMO. He has been on staff for 17 years. Prior to that, he was a volunteer area director and a coach. He can be reached at brimer@somo.org. This post is part of a series of posts that look back on SOMO’s 40-year history.

I remember the first-ever Special Olympics Softball Tournament held in Missouri. It was the summer of 1978 in the middle of July in Hannibal. We had received a letter asking us if we were interested in playing in a Special Olympics Softball Tournament. Softball wasn’t even an official sport in Missouri Special Olympics, but of course our team was ready to play anything, so we began practicing.

I still wonder how I ever made it through those early years. Only a handful of the kids had their own gloves. Most had never even held a bat. Asking them to throw a ball was out of the question. But they wanted to play, so we worked twice week for as long as I could stand it.

And so we traveled the nearly three hours to Hannibal in three vehicles full of some of the most obnoxious, loud, wonderful, hilarious and loving kids. It was hot and we were ever so glad to arrive at our designated housing for the next two nights, until we found out where we were staying.

It had been arranged for all of the teams to stay in a primitive Boy Scout camp. There we stayed in log cabins with no electricity and only one source of running water in the entire campground.

The kids were thrilled. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs cooked over a wood fire, with chips and sodas. Later on we had s’mores. It was fun until we had to go bed. We only had one flashlight, and as I said this place was very primitive. After I had walked all of the groups to their cabins, because they would ONLY go with me in case of a bear attack, I finally walked my group to their cabin.

We spent half the night answering questions about each sound that was heard or that they thought they heard and the other half of the night walking someone to the bathroom, which was the nearest tree or bush.

Finally, morning arrived and we ate cold cereal with milk for breakfast. Then it was time to play. I think there were five teams that ended up playing that first year. There were no divisions, we just played each other. I think we played three games that first day and I know we won all of them.

That night we had McDonald’s hamburgers and fries with orange drink. The fries were cold and limp and the burgers were four hours old, but they were free. The worst part was going back to the cabins with a bunch of stinky kids and no showers. The best part was that they were too tired to worry about noises, but we still had to walk them into the woods to go to the bathroom.

The next morning we had more cold cereal and milk and back to the field. We won our last game and then had to play in the championship. The team we were to play had been our toughest competition and they had not yet played that day.

We won by few runs, but the biggest excitement was the triple play we turned that took what seemed like 15 minutes.

With runners on first and second and no outs, our shortstop caught a fly ball (1 out), but both runners took off on the hit and the batter ran to first. The shortstop ran over and tagged the runner at third (2 outs) and then threw the ball back to our pitcher. I immediately yelled for our pitcher to throw the ball to first base.

Of course the other coach was yelling at his player on second to return to first. And all the while I begged and pleaded with our pitcher to throw the ball to first to no avail. Finally I asked why she wouldn’t throw it to first, and amidst all of the uproar, she told me that I had not told her why she should throw it to first. So, of course I began to explain it to her. Finally she understood and threw the ball to first, while the poor runner at second just stood there so proud for advancing, and we completed a triple play.

Later, after receiving our trophy, our athletes decided they were going to try playing softball again maybe, as long as it wasn’t so hot. And then we drove home with the stinkiest bunch of kids I have ever been with, but they were also the happiest.