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.”

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Welcome to the Team: Brandon Schatsiek

When it was all said and done, my face hurt from all of the smiling.

I hadn’t smiled that much since my wedding; the only difference this time was I actually enjoyed myself.

Yes, the whole marrying my best friend thing was fine and dandy — I guess — but the facial pain was in reference to posing for photographs from sun up ‘til sun down that left my face numb.

I’m the kind of person who would much rather be behind the camera than in front of it for reasons explained above, but after taking pictures and video (as I begin my new position as Public Relations Coordinator for SOMO) at the Fall Games that all too familiar facial numbness was back. This time, however, I was smiling for all of the right reasons.

Technically I don’t start until December 3, but I wanted to help out and get my first Special Olympics experience.

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Most of the time it was difficult to tell who was winning and who was losing because both sides were living in the ecstasy of competition, while exuding great sportsmanship.

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Let me quickly introduce myself: I am from Washington, Ill., a small city just outside of Peoria. I graduated from University of Missouri with a degree in convergence journalism in 2010.

I was always actively involved with different charitable organizations and youth groups, but it wasn’t until the week of Mizzou’s graduation that I realized I wanted to dedicate my life to making the world a better place without totally wasting all of the money I just spent my journalism degree.

After spending the weekend in Cape Girardeau with the all of the SOMO employees, volunteers and especially the athletes, I knew that I found that perfect job.

I’ve always known about the great things Special Olympics does because my wife’s cousin has Fragile X and has participated in Special Olympics events for years, but my first Special Olympics experience was a baptism by fire so to speak.

We made the 5-hour jaunt to Cape Girardeau from Peoria, Ill., Thursday night (we are re-locating to Missouri in a few weeks) not really sure what the weekend was going to hold.

Sarah was on awards duty at the golf competition while I made the rounds to all of the competitions with Marketing Manager Mandi Steward.

While driving around the foggy and soggy golf course taking photos and video with Mandi, I tried to ask as many questions about Special Olympics as possible without driving her crazy and re-thinking the decision to hire me.

One aspect of Special Olympics that I wasn’t aware of was the division of Unified Sports® competitions. I love the idea that in certain sports athletes can be paired with friends, family members or coaches to compete against other teams.

It allows the athletes to still compete against one another, but gives them a teammate for support both physically and mentally.

Having servicemen and women helping out at the bocce ball competition was great to see from a volunteer perspective, but from what I could tell, the athletes really enjoyed interacting with them as well. It was a very nice touch and something for which they should be commended.

The Opening Ceremony Friday night was kind of nerve-wracking because things didn’t go the way they were supposed to in a couple of areas, but several SOMO workers said they usually don’t go as planned and still turn out okay most of the time. That was a huge relief.

I was on my own for flag football and softball on Saturday, but it was nice that everything was in one location. It allowed my wife and me to walk around and really just soak in the atmosphere at a Special Olympics event.

Everywhere we went athletes and coaches donned smiles from ear to ear. Most of the time it was difficult to tell who was winning and who was losing because both sides were living in the ecstasy of competition, while exuding great sportsmanship.

That’s what I took away from my first Special Olympics experience: at the end of the day it’s about the athletes having fun playing sports and building healthy, happy relationships with everyone involved.

If covering the sporting events was the cake then the dance Saturday night was definitely the icing. I never really cared for dances when I was in school because, well, I couldn’t dance (and still can’t) and girls were — and for the most part still are — gross.

As fantastic as the athletes were on the field of play, they were even better on the dance floor. I couldn’t stop laughing watching how much fun they were having as I walked around the dance floor taking photos and video.

When the weekend was all said and done, I realized that I couldn’t have ended up with a better organization. I just want to thank all of the volunteers for their hard work in making the event a success; and above all else I want to congratulate all of the athletes for their dedication to their sports.

The weekend truly was a memorable one for Sarah and me as we begin a new chapter in our lives.

Sarah and Brandon Schatsiek

Here’s to hoping there are many more events where my face hurts from smiling and laughing so much.

Brandon Schatsiek will begin his job at SOMO Dec. 3. You can reach him at schatsiek@somo.org.

Help us put on our biggest sporting event of the year!

With more than 200 sporting events across the state each year, one thing Special Olympics Missouri knows well is that we would not exist without volunteers. More than 30,000 individuals give their time, expertise, manpower, and encouragement to the SOMO athletes each year. And right now we are on the cusp of our signature event, the event that makes people ask “When are the Special Olympics this year?” when in reality, “the” Special Olympics is a year-round program offering training and competition. You know, I’m talking about the State Summer Games May 29 – June 1 in Columbia.

This year is particularly special for us, because we have made some major changes to our sports competition schedule and are adding some new sports to the State Summer Games and welcoming more athletes than ever before to this special event. Where better to host this bigger and better State Summer Games than Mizzou?! The University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Town & Country Lanes will be hosting our competitions, and we’re thrilled to offer our athletes world-class facilities to showcase their abilities.

There are always challenges when it comes to change, and the one YOU can help us with is our volunteer needs. In the past, we had around 1,200 volunteer positions to fill, but with the new competitions, extra days of activities and additional athletes, we’re looking to fill more than 1,500 volunteer positions. Here are some examples of the jobs we have available; you can find the complete list here.

  • Track & Field running events volunteer: help as a timer, finish line holder, picker (you are responsible for finding the person who crossed the finish line 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, etc).
  • Basketball scorekeeper/timekeeper: help keep the scorebook, scoreboard, or managing the time clock.
  • Opening Ceremonies setup crew: help set up equipment, decorations, chairs, and more to put on a rockin’ Opening Ceremony!

All of our jobs are open to the general public. We love to have corporate groups, student groups, families, or groups of friends come, but you can volunteer all on your own as well. There are dozens of types of positions, and no sports experience is necessary – we offer training on site. In exchange for your help, you will walk away with a volunteer T-shirt (sizes subject to availability), and an experience you’ll be talking about for weeks. Come witness the courage, strength, and talent of thousands of Special Olympics athletes. Sign up today.

Volunteers, fans and teams staying off campus can park in the CG1 lot or the RP10 lot and use our free shuttle bus service! Cars and vans for teams staying on campus may park in their residence hall lot. Please park on the west side of the lot at bowling.

Here are a few other resources you might find helpful:

Special thanks to our sponsors this year: Shop ‘n Save, Law Enforcement Torch Run, Knights of Columbus, Southwest Dairy Farmers, Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Zimmer Radio Group, Columbia Missourian, Levy Restaurant, Mid-America Wireless, Town & Country Lanes and Break Time.

Sharing Special Olympics with a new generation of fans

I have been so blessed to be a part of Special Olympics Missouri in many different ways.  I have been a volunteer, a coach, a member of the Games Management Team, a fan and a friend.  But I think the best way I have ever been involved is as a teacher.  I am a special education teacher in Springfield, Missouri, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to take my entire school to cheer on the amazing athletes at the State Summer Games.  To see how excited the students from my school were about going to Special Olympics is something I will never forget.  For two years, we were able to take about 150 students to cheer on the athletes as they competed in track and field events.  A lot of the students at my school did not have a lot of knowledge of Special Olympics.  I have one student, Madison, who has participated in the track events at the summer games since she was eight years old.  The students had listened to her share her stories of the games and saw her medals, but they did not quite understand how inspiring these athletes can be until they experienced it first hand.

So in May 2010, our school attended our first Summer Games, which was held at Missouri State University.  To say that I was touched by the way the students from my school interacted with the athletes and cheered them to victory would be a huge understatement.  I was surprised by how vocal and involved the kids were.  They cheered from the moment we got there until we left, and they made sure that all the athletes knew we were proud of them.  Many of the athletes came over after their event to talk to our students.  Everyone was so excited and accepting of each other.  The best moment of the day came at about 1:30 when our Madison was competing in the softball throw.  Our group was so loud and we could all see Madison beaming at us from the field.  She was so excited to share something that she was amazing at with everyone at her school.  She ended up getting a silver medal in the event and got to show off her medals to all of her friends and classmates.

Special Olympics has such a special place in my heart, and I love that I got to share the experience and plant a seed of acceptance and love in the students at my school.  I see their incredible acceptance and love of my students every day.  The lessons they learned by going to Special Olympics will stay with them long after they leave our school.

Katie Burrows is a volunteer and teacher in Springfield, Mo.

New Sports Calendar Offers Increased Competition Opportunities

If you participate in bowling, you’ve probably already realized that our sports calendar is undergoing some changes. Starting in this year, SOMO will offer two state events, State Summer Games and State Fall Games, plus new district- and regional-level events. Our plan is that the new levels of competition will allow more opportunities for athletes to compete with less travel. In addition, our state events will be expanded to offer more chances for our athletes to receive health screenings and socialize with friends across the state.

With the rising cost of gas and increasingly busier schedules, we sometimes have teams opt out of state events to save money and/or time. We wanted to create new opportunities for our athletes to compete closer to home. Adding district- and regional-level events will not only satisfy that need, but it will also bring the magic of Special Olympics to additional communities.

So, what are the new events? Click here for a visual breakdown.

  • We have added two district bowling competitions in March. Any athlete who competed at the area level may advance to districts. Athletes from Northwest, KC Metro, Southwest, Central, and Northeast areas will compete in St. Joseph March 2-3. Athletes from St. Louis Metro, Southeast, Northeast, and Central areas will compete in St. Charles March 17-18. A coach may request permission from their Area Director to attend the competition opposite to which they are assigned. These events will include an overnight stay for out-of-area teams. Athletes must earn a gold or silver medal to advance from districts to state. State competition in bowling will now take place during State Summer Games.
  • We have also added two regional basketball competitions in March. As it has been in the past, any athlete who competed at the area level in basketball may advance to districts, and they must earn a gold or silver at districts to advance to regionals. Teams from KC Metro, Northwest, Southwest, Central, and Northeast areas will compete at North Kansas City and Park Hill schools March 24. Teams from St. Louis Metro, Southeast, Northeast and Central areas will compete in Wentzville March 31. A coach may request permission from their Area Director to attend the competition opposite to which they are assigned. These events will include an overnight stay for out-of-area teams. Athletes must earn a gold medal at regionals to advance to state. State competition in basketball will now take place during State Summer Games.
  • If the number of softball teams continues to grow, we may add regional softball competition in 2013. This year, any teams who compete at the area tournament may advance to districts. Teams must earn a gold or silver medal at districts to advance to State Fall Games.

Athletes may participate in all sports up until state competition. Athletes will be allowed to compete in one individual sport and one team sport at the state level. The same goes for coaches. Click here for a visual illustration of how athletes can advance through each sport.

Here’s how the sports fit in at the two state events:

State Summer Games: Columbia, May 29 – June 1, including aquatics, athletics, basketball, bowling, powerlifting and volleyball.

State Fall Games: Cape Girardeau, October 11 – 14, including bocce, flag football, golf, soccer, softball, and tennis. 

You’ll notice volleyball competition has been moved to State Summer Games, which means area competition will now take place in April. Bocce and soccer competition have been moved to State Fall Games, which means area tournaments will be held between June and October. Golf, softball and tennis competitions may be adjusted slightly from previous years to allow for state competition in October.

Each sport will be evaluated at the end of each sports season to determine if we need to realign sports in an effort to continue to grow and maintain participation in the current sports. The numbers will be evaluated and compared to the average participation between the competition years of 2008-2013.

Competitions at the local, area, district and regional levels will remain FREE of charge for the athletes. state, national and world games will continue to be an opportunity for athletes and teams/agencies to raise money at the grass roots level. The cost per athlete to attend state games in 2012 is $50. Since housing is one of our largest expenses, teams may choose not to stay in the provided lodging and receive a 50% discount per athlete ($25). 

We hope you will enjoy the new opportunities this year. Check out our FAQ document for additional details. If any of your questions have not been answered, please leave them in the comments below.