Summer Games moving to Springfield for 2015-2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Games Volunteer Shares Experience

After reading the blog on VUHQ and saw that Special Olympics was looking for volunteers, I thought – what the heck I will see if they need anyone for the swimming events. I signed up to work the morning shift on Saturday and again the afternoon shift on Saturday since they were short on volunteers for the second shift. I had no idea that Veterans United Foundation was a sponsor of this event until I was looking at a fellow volunteer’s T-shirt.

Watching these special athletes compete in a sport they love even with the handicaps that they had (some severe some not so severe) it was heartwarming to see the sportsmanship among the athletes, the sheer joy of when they touched the end of the pool after their race, asking for their time and the excitement when we shared their times and told them what a great job and hearing their coaches cheer them on, every athlete was yelled and clapped on during their races no matter how fast or slow they were. After 10 hours at the pool on Saturday, many wet hugs, high fives, thumbs up, getting splashed on (on purpose and the sound of their sheer joy of getting me wet) made my heart full and I count myself lucky to have participated in this special sporting event.

I am very proud that I am a small part of VUF and that our Foundation supports such a wonderful event and we are truly enhancing the lives of these special athletes. Thank you for all you do!

Renee Aslanidis

GO WILD at the State Summer Games!

IMG_4298Everyone who knows Special Olympics knows that the athletes are the heart and soul of our program. But, with more than 200 sporting events across the state each year, there are more than 30,000 individuals who are vital to the success of our program: our volunteers.

The State Summer Games are coming up May 30 – June 2 in Columbia. These Games will feature the culmination of six sports seasons: track and field, bowling, basketball, aquatics, powerlifting and volleyball. Our athletes have been training for months for this big moment, and we need your help to make it a reality.

There are several ways you can contribute to the success of Summer Games:

  • Volunteer for a shift. All of our jobs are open to the general public. Most shifts are four hours, and no sports knowledge is necessary. You can choose which event and time works for you on our website. www.somo.org/summergames
  • Volunteer with a group. Whether it’s a group of family members, friends, a civic organization or co-workers, Special Olympics events are great teambuilding activities. Email Ashley at dawson@somo.org for a list of opportunities.
  • Volunteer for a full day as a venue coordinator. These are great for volunteers who want a deeper level of involvement and/or who have some sports knowledge. Check out those opportunities here.
  • We need photographers! Everyone loves to see photos of themselves, right? If you have an interest in photography, this is a great way for you to spend your time. Email Brandon at schatsiek@somo.org for more information.
  • Donate money, goods or services. We’ll gladly take cash donations, but we also need things like meals, giveaways, water and ice. If you’re interested in contributing in this manner, email Susan at stegeman@somo.org.

IMG_0008In exchange for your help, you will walk away with an experience you’ll be talking about for weeks. However you choose to get involved, GO WILD and 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.

Special thanks to our statewide sponsors: Shop ‘n Save, Law Enforcement Torch Run, Knights of Columbus; and our premier event sponsors: Southwest Dairy Farmers, Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Zimmer Radio Group, Columbia Missourian, KMIZ, Veterans United Foundation and Break Time.

Sgt. Mark Koeller Receives John Michael Letz Unsung Hero Award

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after Michael because of his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and who died from cancer. The St. Louis Trivia night fundraiser was his creation. It continues still today, raising over $150,000 since its inception. There are Trivia Nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now as a result of the one started in St. Louis.

The first recipient of this award was Ralph Biele who was instrumental in starting Missouri’s Torch Run 27 years ago.  Previous recipients are:

Ralph Biele                             Rich Banahan                         John Cira

Mary Branstetter                     Randy Boehm                        David Pudlowski

Janelle Waterman                  Graham Burnley                     Jim Moran

Jim McCart                             Zim Schwartze                       Tim Goebel

Randy Werner                        Rick Hayes                             Don Spears

Jim McNiell                            Joseph Chapman

The criteria for recipients include:

  • Responsible for significant fundraising results
  • Participates in year-round support
  • Exemplifies the Special Olympics mission
  • Someone who is a visionary for the Torch Run
  • Someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know.  We don’t know them because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background working to do more.

Sgt. Mark Koeller with his sister, mother, daughter and wife at the LETR Awards Brunch

Sgt. Mark Koeller with his sister, mother, daughter and wife at the LETR Awards Brunch

This year’s recipient was announced at the LETR Awards Brunch on Dec. 6 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. Sgt. Mark Koeller, of the St. Louis County Police Department, has been involved in the Torch Run for 12 years. He was recognized as the Region Unsung Hero after 6 years of Torch Run involvement. Sgt. Koeller has served as his agency’s co-coordinator, participating and recruiting in every event his agency is involved in. He volunteers to present medals at the State Summer Games as well as Area Spring Games. Sgt. Koeller has coordinated the law enforcement honor guard participation at the State Summer Games Opening Ceremonies for the past nine years.

What sets him apart is his contribution outside his agency’s involvement – hosting, organizing or recruiting other officers and agencies. Sgt. Koeller coordinated a regional truck convoy event with four agencies for five years that brought in sponsors, agencies, truckers and athletes and raised $22,429. He created a new route of the Torch Run in 2010, covering a new part of the region and recruiting 48 runners from 15 agencies. He helped start and still serves on the steering committee for SOMO’s first Over the Edge event, which has raised $511,000 in four years. Sgt. Koeller got his whole family involved and helped fundraise for his mom and wife so their experience going Over the Edge would be a life-changing one.

According to his nominator:  “This person doesn’t wait to be asked, he is committed and dedicated to the cause.  Whether he is protecting runners with his police car, carrying the torch, scaling a building, a cop on top, selling T-shirts, organizing/distributing/motivating for his agency, he gives his all with the mind-set of ‘whatever it takes.’”

He is a quiet leader who continues to challenge himself and others to work hard, be creative and dream of what is possible for Special Olympics.  He is a valuable team member who makes those around him better.

My SOMO Story: Tim Schuster

My SOMO story begins in 1997 in Atchison, Kansas.  I was an uninspired fifth year senior with an extra semester still to go.  In search of a way to finish my college career sometime  before I hit my thirties, I began to hit the trail in search of some type of internship.  Now, if there is one sport that I love, it is the game of baseball.  I could sit and talk for hours about baseball stats, players, managers, strategies and so on.  I had basically spent the entire year trying to get hired for an internship with a minor league baseball team.  Unfortunately, due to finals week, I was unable to attend the large job fair minor league teams use to hire most of their interns.

Then one day I got a call from my mother, and she had been doing some looking on her own, presumably since she was tired of paying for all these years at a private college. Gary Brimer (SOMO’s Chief Sports Officer) had an opening in Jefferson City at the headquarters office. The pay wasn’t much but it would count for credit, I could live at home and we could carpool together since Gary & I lived in the same town.  I had known Gary pretty much my whole life, and since the baseball thing didn’t appear to be panning out, I decided to take him up on his offer.  My experience with Special Olympics was next to nothing.  I had helped Gary out at a local basketball tournament a couple of times in Boonville (my hometown), but nothing more than that.  I had the typical “too cool for school” attitude initially, and took more than my fair share of ribbing from my roommates about spending my summer working with a bunch “special” people.  That’s about the attitude I took with me to begin.

On my first day on the job, Gary told me to pack up my stuff as we would be leaving for the Missouri State Summer Games at Ft. Leonard Wood the following day.  Let me tell you, there’s nothing like being thrown to the wolves on your first week beginning with the biggest event in the state.  So as the Games began, and I got more acclimated with Special Olympics, I began to see what it was all about.  I saw all of the passion, determination, and hard work that was put into the games by the athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers.  I saw that these athletes were not really any different than me or my roommates.  And I remember leaving the Fort with a whole new respect for the athletes and thinking, “Heck, if I had half as much drive as they did, I wouldn’t be facing my sixth year of college dead in the face.”

The summer continued pretty much uneventful just doing the basic intern stuff like filing and what not.  Then one day Gary proposed to me that Missouri was going to put on an athlete camp as a pre-cursor to a Special Olympics World Games the following year.  Missouri had never put on a camp, but other states were trying it and he wanted to see how it went with athletes spending a week away participating in various different sports. I would be the director.  Well, all I can say is, what an experience it was.  We trained in different sports such as basketball, aquatics, and tennis.  We had nightly activities. It was really a good insight once again that these athletes are just like you and I.  I can’t tell you how much fun I had with them. From playing sports with them, showing of my limited dance skills at the dance, and even doing a camp activity known as hiney writing (basically writing your name with your posterior) it truly was one of the best weeks I have ever had.  On the last day of camp, we said our goodbyes and as we were leaving I was presented with an official camp shirt with the autographs of about a hundred of my new friends. To this day, that shirt is framed and hanging up in my house for all to see.

Sadly, the internship came to an end after camp and it was back to school, but I always took with me all of the life lessons the athletes had taught me through their actions.  Life went on, and eventually I did get that baseball job.  I spent ten years traveling the southeast working in baseball.  But I never forgot about Special Olympics, it might have been volunteering at the softball tourney in Tennessee, or helping coordinate  the Jello Jump at my stadium in Virginia. Special Olympics was no longer something I joked about or avoided it was something I sought out and wanted to be a part of.

Now life has brought me full circle, and low and behold I am back working with Special Olympics Missouri full time. I even make it back to camp each year. It’s just like the old adage says: “You can take yourself out of Special Olympics, but you will never take Special Olympics out of you.”

Tim Schuster, left, is the Northeast Area Director for SOMO. You can reach him at schuster@somo.org.

Healthy Athletes adds Fit Feet as new service

Having the right shoe size is essential for success in track & field and many other Special Olympics sports.

What do SOMO athletes do in between competition at state games? Perhaps they’ll grab some food to refuel, or visit with friends, or maybe receive a general foot exam.

Thanks to the development of the Healthy Athletes program, our athletes now have the opportunity to improve their health in an environment that is focused on the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

At the State Summer Games in May, our Healthy Athletes program was in full swing.  Dentists, audiologists, physical therapists, and other health professionals volunteered their time to make sure our athletes were in tip-top shape to compete.

New to SOMO’s Healthy Athletes program is Fit Feet. A group of specialists – including podiatrists, Mizzou athletic trainers, and shoe store employees – completed nearly 150 general foot exams for our athletes.

Dr. Scott Foster of Columbia had been looking for a philanthropic opportunity at the same time SOMO was searching for a podiatrist to help lead the Fit Feet team, so he readily agreed to join.  With another podiatrist, he traveled to Boston for Fit Feet training and orientation.  Once at the State Summer Games, the Fit Feet team discovered a variance of issues surrounding the foot health of our athletes.

“The main issue seemed to center around shoe size and shoe type. Many of the athletes had the wrong shoe size and many had the wrong type of shoe for their sports,” Dr. Foster says.

These findings were very important because they negatively affect more than just an athlete’s performance.

“A shoe too big may slow them down, make them move awkwardly, and cause blisters or irritation from the foot moving too much in the shoe,” Dr Foster added.  “A shoe too small will also cause blisters and be uncomfortable, slowing the athlete down. Prolonged use of shoes too small may also lead to deformities such as bunions and hammertoes, which is a common deformity with individuals who have intellectual disabilities.”

These findings have led to many athletes getting the right shoes for their feet.  Connie Hinds, a member of the team Unstoppable Dawgs, talked about the effects of her experience with Fit Feet.

“I got the right shoe size now,” she says. “I wear a 6.5. I feel a lot better!”

Christopher Thebo of the Power Punch Bunch adds, “I would do it again.  They were very nice.”

Sounds like a win-win to us.  Healthy Athletes means happy athletes, and that’s what we’re all about.

To support the Healthy Athletes program or volunteer your time at an upcoming Healthy Athletes screening, email Diannah White.

The Road to State

Sarah Barr is SOMO’s marketing intern this summer.

I have been around the Special Olympics organization for several years as a volunteer, coach, and now as an intern.  My high school hosted a yearly soccer tournament, and after watching my first Special Olympics soccer game I was hooked.  When I moved to Columbia to attend Mizzou, I joined the Central Area Special Olympics family.  I coach basketball and track, and love every second.

Now I’ll admit, I did not understand how important the State Summer Games were when I started coaching.  I thought the athletes might view it as just another day of sports to pile atop their seemingly endless succession of practices and tournaments. However, one of the athletes on my track and basketball team showed me how incredibly wrong I was.

Michael is a passionate athlete, an extremely thoughtful person, and even happens to have an insatiable interest in nature (example – he brought a plastic jar to every track practice to catch bugs).  He is easily coached and always wanted to work harder, whether it meant scrimmaging after the other athletes (and admittedly, coaches) were tired or joining another team to do sprints.  As great of a basketball player Michael is, his true passion lies in bowling.

Enjoying the Opening Ceremony

Michael is one of those guys who speaks when spoken to.  With that said, when Michael speaks – you listen.  One practice in mid-January, Michael was dribbling the ball down the court when he suddenly stopped, looked up with bright eyes, and exclaimed how excited he was about his upcoming bowling tournament.  I assumed it was the coming weekend or sometime soon, but I found out it was actually in March – over a month and a half away.  [Can you imagine if we all cherished activities in our lives as much as Michael? … Some food for thought.]

The bowling tournament Michael was so excited about turned out to be the determinant of who would go to State.  I could not attend the tournament myself as it was in St. Joe and I am on a college student’s budget, so the following was recounted to me by an AMAZING woman from the Columbia Parks and Recreations agency, Jody Cook.

Michael had delivered a strong performance at the tournament. When the time came to hand out awards, he knew he might have a chance to win gold, and ultimately, a spot at the State Summer Games.  He stood with the other bowlers, anxiously awaiting the results.  The bronze was given, leaving just him and one other bowler.  When the announcer stated that the other bowler had won silver, Michael incredulously staggered towards the stage, beaming his million dollar smile.  Now, please recall that Michael rarely speaks without being addressed.  When he got to the awards area to receive his gold medal, he looked out at the crowd and stated “This is the best day of my life!”

Perhaps you have to know Michael personally, but this story gives me goosebumps.  What an awesome moment! It showed me how important the State Summer Games were to the athletes.

A few frames prior to winning!

So, with that understanding, I headed to my home-away-from-home (Mizzou) to spend it with my other family (SOMO Athletes), and I was not disappointed.  The athleticism, the laughter, the joy – I couldn’t turn around without seeing all three.  The athletes worked hard and wore their accumulation of medals with immense pride.  But the best moment at the State Summer Games for me, personally, was when I got to watch Michael bowl his way to a gold medal.  He exuded pride.  His feeling of accomplishment was mirrored by the other athletes around him, and their smiles were infectious.  In fact, I am smiling as I type this just thinking about it!

You have read about two very different roads to state – Michael’s story of gold medals and pride, and mine of life lessons. I encourage you all to pave your own road.  I hope you have someone like Michael to call your friend, and if not, I encourage you to volunteer at a Special Olympics event soon!  The State Summer Games are not just another tournament – they’re a celebration of the journey.