Warren County’s Special Olympics program is humming with excitement following the announcement that two full teams of its athletes will compete at the Special Olympics USA Games in …
Warren County’s Special Olympics program is humming with excitement following the announcement that two full teams of its athletes will compete at the Special Olympics USA Games in 2022.
Members of the boys flag football team and girls 3-on-3 basketball team will travel to Orlando, Florida, next June to compete at the national games, which are held every four years. The local Special Olympics program is run by Warren County Handicapped Services.
Recreation coordinator and coach Rich Black said he’s proud of how many local athletes were chosen at the statewide selection trials in June. In previous years, the program has sent one or two athletes or coaches to the national event. Next year, over a dozen area athletes, three coaches and three unified partners (non-handicapped players) will attend the USA Games.
“This is the first time we’ve had two full teams ... we’ve never even had one full team attending,” said assistant flag football coach Julia Busken. “That means our guys had to outcompete all the teams across the state of Missouri.”
Joined by a few other players from elsewhere in Missouri, the teams will go to Florida to compete against representatives from every other state in the U.S. Before and after the week of competitions, there will be just as much ceremony and celebration of the athletes as you might expect from an Olympics event, Busken added.
Between now and then, Black said he and the other coaches will have to put in regular practices with the athletes to get them in shape for the competitions.
“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to now is doing some sport-specific training, along with getting a trainer to help them ... to make themselves stronger,” Black said. “Besides on-field training, we’re going to have a personal trainer working with them on foot speed, verticals, speed and strength.”
They also have a major funding hurdle to overcome to attend the Orlando USA Games. Black said each athlete and unified partner has to raise $3,000 to attend, while coaches have to pitch in $1,500 each – a total of around $50,000. Black said the teams and Handicapped Services will be organizing fundraisers to help make the trip possible.
The athletes traveling to Orlando are experiencing a mix of nerves and excitement. They said playing in Special Olympics gives them a sense of belonging, goals to work toward, and a chance to be celebrated for their hard work. Going to larger competitions also helps them understand that many people have shared their struggles.
“There are more people like me out there who have a disability,” said athlete Michael Mohrmann. “You learn about how they do things differently, how they act. ... You learn about how to appreciate them.”
Athlete Brooke Timmerberg said she hopes their positive accomplishments will help some people reconsider how they think about those with disabilities.
“Having a disability can be really hard. People can be cruel,” Brooke said. “If you learn about us and our disability, you’ll understand.”
For unified partner Caleb McCarty, volunteering to play with the athletes was a revelation.
“Before I was involved with Special Olympics and the individuals here ... I didn’t really understand a whole lot. Being around them a lot made me understand that everybody is unique, everybody is perfect in their own way. There’s nothing different about me and anyone else here,” said McCarty.