Special Olympics Missouri event to feature five sports, 950 athletes
JEFFERSON CITY – Athletes from all over Missouri will gather to compete in the Outdoor Games this weekend in Jefferson City.
Starting Friday morning, athletes from each of five regions - North, Central, Southeast, Southwest, Kansas City and St. Louis - will represent their area.
“We have five sports: Bocce, flag football, softball, tennis and golf,” coordinator Harrison McLean said.
Event locations include Washington Park and Thomas Jefferson Middle School. The Special Events Missouri website has a complete schedule and map.
Organizers said they are surprised Bocce accounts for a large number of the 950 athletes participating, more than 400. That's second only to softball, which has 500 players on 42 teams.
Annette King and Terri Stephens, both coaches for Mid-Missouri Special Olympics, said Bocce has increased in popularity and competition through sports camps and previous games .
However, with increased demand come challenges of finding a place to practice.
“We actually put in a lot of time, because we have to decide where we’re going to go for practice, how we’re going to get it done and what we need as far as sports equipment,” King said. “it’s never ending; we do sports year-round.”
Stephens said, “We’re very fortunate to come to the Deuce [to practice], and they have two great fields for us to play on.”
King and Stephens will coach 15 athletes in Bocce this Friday.
Team member Jason Boyd said, “The coaches are fun to hang out with and I just love it. We get to talk about strategies like how to bank the ball.”
Boyd said learning new techniques keeps him coming back to play each year.
Lena King, another Bocce athlete, finished in first place last year and said the coaches make practices fun.
“They make me laugh.” King said.
This year, if an athlete receives a gold medal in an event, they could potentially go on to Seattle for the 2018 USA Games.
McLean said one of the first steps in qualifying for the Missouri delegation is to get a gold medal at one of the three state games.
“Gold medal gives them the chance to start qualifying, followed by a nomination process before attending sports camp, which is called selection camp the year before national games,” he said. “We want to get to know athletes on a more personal level, see them in a similar environment, where they are away from home and in a different environment, so we like to see how they are being on their own before we take them half way across the country.”
For now, King and Stephens are focused on making this weekend of competition an enjoyable one.
“All I ever ask of my athletes is that they do their best and good sportsmanship,” Stephens said. I don’t care what they get as long as they do their best and are good sports.”
King said the games are a way for athletes to engage in friendly competition and meet a number of fellow athletes in the state.
“If you have a bad day, they will be the ones that cheer you up, no matter what,” King said. “They’ve got the jokes, just their smile, their hugs. It’s a great thing.”
McLean said the Outdoor Games will feature more than 200 coaches and 400 volunteers throughout the weekend.