EDMORE — Nearly 200 Special Olympians from Montcalm and Ionia counties didn’t let a little wet weather rain on their parade at Friday’s Area 6 Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) Summer Games at Montabella Junior/Senior High School.
Activities were moved inside and modified — four square replaced the softball throw, shuffle board replaced bocce ball and plastic horseshoes replaced metal ones.
Adult and student athletes from Belding, Carson City-Crystal, Central Montcalm, Greenville, Lakeview, Lakewood and the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District poured their heart and soul into events.
Divisions included 8 and younger, juniors ages 8-15, seniors ages 16-21 and masters age 22 and older and were divided into heats based on skill level. Medals were awarded for first through fifth place and participation ribbons to others.
When athletes weren’t competing they worked on craft projects in the cafeteria
It took 65 high school volunteers to keep things running smoothly, according to Jody Moyer, Montabella special education teacher and SOMI coach and fundraising and event coordinator. This was Montabella’s first year hosting the event. Recent games were held in Greenville and Lakeview.
Track and field, bocce ball, horseshoes, bowling, golf and cycling, as well as seasonal snowshoe, cross country skiing and downhill skiing are offered at Special Olympics venues throughout the year. Coordinators continually seek ways to encompass athletes of various ages and physical capabilities.
“We are hoping to expand and include a softball team,” said Moyer of one event being considered.
She believes Special Olympics programs offer athletes many benefits, including lasting relationships, improved physical fitness and confidence which extend to homes, classrooms and workplaces. Activities draw families closer in support of their athlete.
The Special Olympics motto, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” was revealed in athletes’ valiant efforts throughout the day. For most, these triumphs were trivial compared to other milestones achieved during their lifetimes.
This is especially true for Kyle Dailey, 17, who was nominated by Moyer as this year’s Area 6 king. Dailey had leg surgery in December 2010, which slowed him down some, but not for long. After progressing from assisted walking events in 2011 to independent walking events in 2012, he’s finally returned to his old self.
“He has come a long way since his surgery on his leg,” Moyer said. “After surgery, walking was hard for him. This year, he’s ready to get out and run again.”
Dailey is excited to return to running and is happy about being king. His usual events are softball throw, the 100-meter dash and the 50-meter dash.
“I like it, it’s fun,” he said. “Besides it gives me a break from school.”
Other royalty include Sheridan’s Nancy Caswell, 40, who was selected as queen. Honorees John Lee, 57, from Greenville, was chosen as athlete of the year. Jon Price and Victoria Poleni are coaches of the year, and Fred and Nancy Gradersher of Greenville are volunteers of the year.
Special Olympics functions are usually in-school based and facilitated by teachers. As a non-profit organization, financial donors and volunteers are vital in helping enrich the lives of athletes and their families, explained Area 6 director Richard Nostrant, who is a work study coordinator and teacher aide at Greenville High School.
He feels no words can describe the joy of being a part of Special Olympics.
“I’ve been involved for 27 years now,” he said. “Those who attend Special Olympics events see the smiles on athletes’ faces. It’s something they can do with no one judging them. It’s their world for the day.”
Jennifer Thompson of Belding looked for ways to get her son, Jamie, 18, involved in Special Olympics. Jamie attends Ionia High School. Jennifer is currently working with Matt Mahar of the Ionia County Intermediate School District to try to get her son’s school on board. According to Jennifer, Greenville Public Schools — which incorporates Special Olympics into its school program — has taken Ionia under its wing.
“I’ve been trying to get Ionia (schools) hooked up, so they can spread the word in Ionia County,” Jennifer said.
Jamie has participated in SOMI for four years and does running events, softball throw and standing long jump.
“So much positive energy comes from being involved in SOMI,” Jennifer said. “He has confidence and is more outgoing. He’s always had a friendly attitude and welcomes anybody. He’s developed a sense of camaraderie and belonging. There is no losing.”
Nathan Killgore, 26, of Greenville, has been in SOMI for around 20 years. Besides competing, he likes hanging out with friends and having some down time.
“Bocce ball is my favorite,” he said. “I’ve taken quite a few awards.”
From the time Nathan was in kindergarten, his father, Harley, encouraged him to expand his horizons. Harley said getting kids involved is scarier for parents than it is for kids.
“It’s a disservice to kids when parents hold them back,” he said. “We always made a point to push Nathan to do everything he could and be as independent as possible. We didn’t want to shelter him and keep him isolated.”
Nathan blossomed. Parental encouragement gave him confidence to secure a job through Hope Network. His dad is proud.
“A mother robin doesn’t let her babies stay in the nest forever,” he said. “When they get big enough, she kicks them out of the nest. You flop a couple times, then you learn to fly.”
Later this month, 120 Area 6 athletes will join nearly 2,600 other competitors from 83 counties in Michigan at Special Olympics Michigan 2013 State Summer Games from May 30 to June 1 on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
For information on upcoming events and ways to get involved, visit www.somi.org online. Additional inquiries may be emailed to Richard Nostrant at firstname.lastname@example.org.