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.

Special Olympics Missouri’s Annual Award Winners Announced

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

Outstanding Athlete: Jennifer Neihouse, Lee’s Summit 

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

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

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

Outstanding Volunteer: Jeff Fugett, Bolivar

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

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

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

Outstanding Coaches: Mike and Kathy Lowry, Independence 

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

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

Outstanding Family: The Hewletts, Warrenton

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

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

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


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

Rewarding Volunteer Experiences

I’m writing to express my gratitude to SOMO, and the very special athletes, as well as the opportunity to volunteer my time. Although I have only recently volunteered a few times –  once at a basketball tournament in Wentzville and once at the Area Spring Games Track and Field event – it’s clear that I will continue my volunteer efforts to support these athletes and this fine organization.

I will try to express and share my brief experiences, but the old adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” certainly applies here. I also recognize and understand that there are many other volunteers that are more qualified and experienced than me to share an opinion; however if you are giving consideration to becoming a volunteer for SOMO, please read through my thoughts and then “just do it.” You will have no regrets or you may think like I have and wonder why I haven’t done this sooner.

My first experience, as mentioned, was in Wentzville where I worked keeping score for several basketball games. The players were adults who truly played the game for how it was intended. Observing the commitment of the coaches who reinforced the importance of teamwork, following the rules of the game, and fairness to players was clearly evident. The athletes themselves played the game at a high level with a sincerity and passion that you must observe in person. The genuine satisfaction and enjoyment in making a good pass and/or shot, and care for their teammates and the other team was always evident. The sportsmanship displayed during and after the game to everyone, including us scorekeepers, referees, and each other would warm anyones heart. The athletes simply appreciated the opportunity to compete. All levels of competitive sports could take lessons and learn from these athletes. I had only signed up for the morning session, but I assure you I didn’t want to leave. Actually, I then visited the school across the parking lot which was also hosting games, to see if additional help was needed. Fortunately, I was able to spend more time providing assistance for those games, as well.

My second experience was at the Area Spring Games for Track and Field. I volunteered to be a “buddy” where I was assigned an athlete with the responsibility of being with them throughout the day to ensure that they attended each of their events. I was amazed at the number of volunteers, at least several hundred, anxiously ready to take on their assignment. The coordination and organization of the activities was admirable. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Katie Heald, a 9-year little girl, who had the energy and enthusiasm of several athletes. She truly brought a smile to everyone at every event she participated. I also had the opportunity to meet Katie’s mom and her 12 year-old sister Jennifer, who also was a participating athlete, in the morning, as well as enjoy lunch together. After lunch, we took a few photos, and then continued on with the events. The excitement of receiving medals by the athletes and their families is also a “must see”. Katie’s events were completed early in the day, so once again I found myself not wanting to leave. I just observed people for about another hour in amazement and was humbled and honored to be a part of the day.

I have had many great experiences in the field of education, where I have recently retired; however the gratification from the connection to these athletes and families, as well as other volunteers is second to none. Observing the coaches, proud families, athletes, coordinators, and other volunteers will want you coming back for more. I hope this encourages more people to set aside time to support the fine organization of SOMO, especially these fine athletes.

– Dave Rogowski

We have volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Learn more on our website. 

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.
  • 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 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 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

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.

Ray Lauer and Linda Wiederholt Inducted into SOMO Hall of Fame

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

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

Ray LauerRay Lauer, Hillsboro (volunteer)

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

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

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

Linda WiederholtLinda Wiederholt, Kansas City (volunteer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 SOMO Annual Award Winners

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

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

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

Outstanding Volunteer Emily ReyesOUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER: Emily Reyes, Southwest Area

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

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

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

Outstanding Family RashOUTSTANDING FAMILY: The Rash family, Northwest Area 

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

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

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.

Curt Yaeger’s Trip to Serbia

First a little background about me and the opportunity I had to go on this trip.  I am the Volleyball Sports Director for Special Olympics Missouri and was contacted by Special Olympics International as well as the State Department to participate in a Coaching Fellowship between the US, Serbia and Montenegro.  Year one’s focus is volleyball in Europe and then year two will focus on soccer in the US.

Day 1:
It all began with a long trip from Jefferson City, Mo., to Belgrade, Serbia.  Three flights, four airports, and a seven hour time change.  I left St. Louis at 2 pm on Saturday and arrived at my hotel in Belgrade at 2 pm on Sunday.

After arriving, I had a chance to meet the others that would be in our fellowship group throughout the trip.  Five from the US (myself, Scott from California, Teresa and Steven from Phoenix and Ruth from Dallas), three from Serbia (Jelena, Sasha and Max) and two from Montenegro (Besim and Saida).   After a short presentation and dinner we concluded our first day.

Day 2:
Today consisted of classroom sessions with fellows and reps from Poland, Italy, Russia, Finland and Austria. Since several of the European countries are just starting to form volleyball teams we talked about the history of Special Olympics Volleyball, both Regulation and Unified.  Most of the discussion was led by two Special Olympics Germany representatives.

Tonight we had a formal dinner and signing of proclamations between Special Olympics and the European Volleyball Confederation and the Serbian Volleyball Foundation. This provides all of the European countries with a way to promote volleyball and major resources that they can use.

Day 3:
After a short classroom session, we were bused to a local gym for some court time.  For the first couple of hours our group was led through drills by Aldis Berzins (Special Olympics International) and Vanja Grbic (Professional Volleyball player from the former Yugoslavia).  After a short break for lunch we had the opportunity to work with two newly formed Special Olympics Serbia volleyball teams.

Day 4:
After a few morning sessions, we finally had a chance to see a little of the city this afternoon.

We took a bus from the hotel downtown to a church that is still being built after 70 years!  It was going to be the largest in this area until Russia started one and finished ahead of them. They are predicting it will take another 20 years for it to be finished!! At a ceremony 10 years ago they were able to get 20,000 people inside!

After that we went “downtown” and walked the shopping area. After walking for a while we sat down at a cafe and just relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. We are starting to get to know each other a little better and the language barrier is getting easier to handle. One of the most popular spots to visit is a statue of a horse.  A very popular phrase is “Meet me at the horse”

On our way back to the hotel we drove around the city to see other sites and, weather permitting (it has rained every day), we will get to sightsee again tomorrow afternoon.

It is now down to the 5 from the US, 3 from Serbia, 2 from Montenegro and our hosts from Special Olympics Serbia.  All of the other reps went home today since the coaching seminar part of the trip is over and the fellows are staying to do more.

Day 5:
This morning we had a few more classroom sessions.  The best was a question and answer session with 1 Serbian athlete and 1 US athlete (Steven, one of the fellows) that have both transitioned from playing to being an assistant coach for their respective sports, soccer and basketball.  Other sessions included a doctor speaking about injuries and nutrition and Max, a Serbian football (soccer) coach talking about the history of their Special Olympics program.

After lunch we had another opportunity to sightsee.  Today we visited a fort built around 1750 on the hill above where the Danube and Sava Rivers meet.  It was a very interesting place with great views of the city of Belgrade.  After a short stop at a shopping mall, not my kind of shopping, we returned to the hotel.  After returning, a few of us walked the streets around the hotel looking for shops to visit but did not find anything good.

Day 6:
Today we took about a three-hour bus ride to the city of Krusevac.  When we arrived we had a chance to watch one of the club football (soccer) teams practice with a group of Special Olympic athletes.  All girls, I’m guessing middle school age. It was at an indoor facility and they practiced for about an hour. Very well run practice.

We then went to the County Office and met a few politicians to present gifts from SOI.  This is also the town where Serbia will have their National Games in football and at some other time swimming. All facilities used for free!

We then did a little sightseeing before visiting the swimming facility and the soccer stadium.  The swimming pool is an Olympic-size pool and the soccer pitch (field) is the same one the professionals play on.  As a matter of fact, if it was not for a debate between two guys running for president, Wednesday night we all planned to watch Red Star, one of the teams from Belgrade, play there on TV.

Received a very nice gift bag from the coaches from Krusevac and then headed back to the hotel.

Day 7:
Today we went and watched a football (soccer) competition at a suburb of Belgrade.  It is actually the home town of Max, one of the Serbian fellows. Stayed most of the day and had the chance to play soccer with some of the Special Olympic athletes from Serbia. Our US athlete, Steven, got to hand out medals as well as Besim, one of the Montenegro fellows, and Aldis, one of the staff from Special Olympics International.  We had a great time and the competition was run very well.  We also had the chance to meet the US Ambassador to Serbia.

After the competition was over, Max invited us to a local restaurant for a drink and snack before we headed back to the hotel. We had to board a small boat to cross the river since the restaurant was on an island. Once again we had time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. The entire group really gets along well and has a lot of fun together.

After dinner we plan to sit and watch a football game on TV in the hotel lobby.

Day 8:
Today we went to opening of a state of the art football (soccer) complex opened by one of the Football Federations. We watched a celebrity match and then a group of Special Olympics athletes had a chance to scrimmage.  I thought it was nice but not too much exposure to others while they were playing. Kind of on a back part of the complex while a bunch of other matches were being played. It was also supposed to have volleyball courts inside but we did not get a chance to see that.

Came back, had dinner, and Aldis and I went for a walk on the path behind the hotel for about 30 minutes until it became too dark to walk any more.

Day 9:
In the morning we had a chance to tour the stadium where the professional football team Red Star plays in Belgrade.  They are one of the most historic soccer teams in all of Europe with a deep history and a large fan base in Serbia.

After lunch the US fellows went back to the downtown area by taxi and did some last minute shopping.

The evening dinner was our last chance to be together and reflect on what a great time we had on our trip.  All are very sad to be departing but at the same time happy to return home to see family and friends and spread the word about Special Olympics.

Day 10:
Left the hotel early and once again after a long day of traveling returned home to Jefferson City ready to promote volleyball in our great state and hope to improve the number of athletes that participate in a sport that I love to teach.

To finish, I would like to say this was an awesome opportunity to be a part of.  Learning about what other countries are doing, exchanging different ideas on how to promote Special Olympics, meeting coaches from other countries, etc.  What a great experience.  And, we also get the opportunity to get back together as a group this December in Washington D.C. and then travel to Louisville, Kentucky to watch the Women’s College Championships.  I have to thank the staff of Special Olympics Missouri that helped make all of this possible.

Annual Award Winners

Each year, we recognize those who have made significant contributions to our program. Areas announce their winners at Area Spring Games, and the statewide winners are unveiled at the Opening Ceremonies of our State Summer Games. Here are this year’s honorees.

Outstanding Volunteer

  • Charlie Aiken, Southwest Area
  • Dana Griesinger, Central Area
  • Elizabeth Janes, Northeast Area
  • Bill Morrow, Kansas City Metro Area
  • Jen Rose, Southeast Area
  • Kaylee Schoenfelder, Northwest Area
  • Rose Schwendemann, St. Louis Metro Area

This year’s Outstanding Volunteer is Rose Schwendemann. Rose comes to us from Shop ‘n Save, where she was the Manager of Front End Operations. Shop ‘n Save is one of our biggest partners, which you already know if you’ve been to any events in the St. Louis Metro Area. They do an incredible job of raising funds and awareness for Special Olympics Missouri, and Rose is cut from the same cloth.

She volunteered to be Shop ‘n Save’s “champion,” or point person, for our annual Wheels for Winners Raffle in 2010. She liked it so much that she returned as a champion for the raffle again in 2011. She played a key role in distributing raffle tickets, logging sold tickets, and scheduling times to have the 2011 Camaro parked in their store to boost sales. Her husband, Terry, and son, Jason, have gotten involved in the effort as well, volunteering with Rose to pick up the Camaro an hour and half away.

Rose became known for her elaborate, color-coded Wheels for Winners calendar in her office. Her goal was to beat the previous year’s Raffle total of $25,000. Well, thanks to Rose’s hard work, the 2011 Raffle total surpassed that by $12,000, raising $37,000!

Rose also volunteers at other events around the St. Louis Metro Area, including the Polar Plunge and Over the Edge. Her son, Jason, has already caught the SOMO bug and has begun fundraising to go Over the Edge in St. Louis this October! Rose – your efforts, passion, and enthusiasm are definitely contagious. We are so impressed and thankful for your support!

Outstanding Family

  • Berryhill Family, Southeast Area
  • Brokamp Family, Central Area
  • Janes Family, Northeast Area
  • Miller Family, Southwest Area
  • Rowell Family, Northwest Area
  • Tarry Family, Kansas City Metro Area

The Central Area staff cannot remember a time when the Brokamp family was not an integral part of the Special Olympics Missouri program.  In fact, we can’t remember a time when the Brokamps have ever said “no” to the Central Area.  Let’s say we needed someone on short notice to speak about what Special Olympics has done for them… the Brokamps always make themselves available.  They’ve been there to set up, tear down, score, escort, register volunteers, recruit volunteers… the list goes on and on.

Over the years, the Brokamps have brought that kind of enthusiasm to the Central Area and to the rest of Missouri, but in 2011 they continued to step up their involvement.  Beth has been asked many times to represent SOMO as a public speaker, especially following her induction into the Special Olympics Missouri Hall of Fame this year.  Linda served on the Columbia Polar Plunge committee as the Post Party Chair, and she has taken on additional duties this year as the Chairman of the State Summer Games and the Family Recruiting Chair of the Capital Campaign.  Ken is no stranger to the SOMO staff either – he’s always there as a volunteer in the souvenir stands, getting Beth to and from events, and working with Linda to accomplish her work.

The energy in this family is like none we’ve ever seen!  We feel honored to have the Brokamps as friends and to present them with this well-deserved award for Outstanding Family in 2011!

Outstanding Coach

  • Kathy Butler, Northeast Area
  • Steve  Farkas, St. Louis Metro Area
  • Kadi Haslag, Central Area
  • Dawn Jones, Kansas City Metro Area
  • Lyle Kirk, Northwest Area
  • Todd Koester, Southeast Area
  • Emma Vasquez, Southwest Area

This year’s Outstanding Coach honors go to Lyle Kirk.  Lyle coached the Grundy County DAWGS for many years and worked with teams in a variety of sports, including basketball, bocce, softball, and bowling.  Lyle had a special way of taking our athletes under his wing, developing trust, and encouraging them to become self-confident.  Lyle passed away on November 21, 2011.

We will always remember Lyle’s great attitude, amazing heart, and infectious smile.  At every Northwest Area Tournament you could count on Lyle coaching his teams to be respectful and to play with honor.  If Lyle happened to be watching another team from Grundy County play, you could always count on him to be the loudest fan, encouraging his athletes to do the “DAWGS” chant on the sidelines!

Lyle also helped to start up the first-ever Young Athletes Program in Trenton, MO which continues to this day.  On Young Athlete Nights, he always made sure every athlete had a buddy, they all understood, and they all could participate.

At Lyle’s funeral, one of his athletes said, “It didn’t matter if we won or lost, Lyle always said all that matters is that we did our best.  We always did our best and it shows because at our last tournament we won the sportsmanship award.  Lyle helped us do that.”

As you can see, Lyle instilled in these athletes what our coaches are meant to instill:  sportsmanship!  His athletes will live on remembering what Lyle taught them. They will continue to play with honor and heart in the name of Lyle Kirk.

Lyle Kirk was a special man and a very special coach for the Northwest Area.  We will miss him greatly.  Another coach from Grundy County, Brenda Thorne, put it quite nicely: “HE IS OUR HERO!”

Outstanding Athlete

  • Justin Bernhardt, St. Louis Metro Area
  • Joey Breeden, Northeast Area
  • Brianne Chavez, Southeast Area
  • Jenny Dayton, Southwest Area
  • Kizzy Dutton, Northwest Area
  • Leanna Krogmann, Central Area
  • Brittany Selken, Kansas City Metro Area

We are proud to honor Leanna Krogmann as our Outstanding Athlete in 2012.  In 2011, Leanna reached a major milestone in the career of any Special Olympics athlete: attending the World Games in Athens, Greece.  Better still, she competed in her favorite sport, swimming.  Leanna moved from Hannibal to Columbia and immediately began her training as a swimmer.  Every parent, coach, and athlete she comes into contact with takes notice of her infectious “never give up” attitude.  Always looking for a new challenge, she joined a new team to work with a college-level swim coach and continued to flourish as an athlete.

She’s more than an athlete though.  Leanna worked with her parents to raise over $5,000 to pay for her trip to the World Games.  Always an ambassador for Special Olympics, she embodies the spirit of competition, learning, determination, and teamwork.  Her coaches recall that after she won a gold medal at Athens, she returned home to Columbia wearing all four of her medals at once with the gold medal underneath the rest.  She was wearing them in the order that she received them, none more important than the others.  Each of those medals represented a unique achievement and Leanna wore each of them with pride!

Today, Leanna Krogmann trains and competes as hard as ever.  For her, Special Olympics is a way of life, full of opportunities even after competing at the World Games.  Thank you for representing us so well, Leanna!

View photos of all of our nominees on our Facebook page.