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.