Cape Girardeau's first time hosting Special Olympics state tournament gets thumbs up

Monday, August 16, 2010
Special Olympic athletes pose for a photo Friday during the opening ceremony of Special Olympics Missouri 2010 State Outdoor Championship in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Although morning thunderstorms Sunday shut down the final day of the Special Olympics State Outdoor Championships, athletes, coaches and tournament organizers left Cape Girardeau smiling, pleased with its facilities and the supportive community.

The State Outdoor Championships -- which included golf, tennis and softball competitions -- kicked off Friday and was supposed to end Sunday with a three-game softball tournament. Nearly 700 athletes and coaches participated in the championship games, which will be held in Cape Girardeau the next three years.

Mandi Mueller, Special Olympics Missouri public relations coordinator, said Sunday's tournament cancellation was the only disappointing element of the weekend.

"Any time you take an event to a new city, you expect a few issues. Everything went really, really well," Mueller said. "Everyone was really, really impressed with the facilities, which is what drew us to Cape."

Events took place at the Cape Jaycee Golf Course, Southeast Missouri State University Tennis Complex and Student Recreation Center, Osage Community Centre, Cape Splash and the Arena Building.

When deciding on the location of this year's games, Mueller said the organization considered the fact that no Southeast Missouri city has ever hosted the State Outdoor Championships. Southeast Missouri athletes and families have always had to travel to other cities if they wanted to compete.

"They kind of had the chance to be the featured athletes, which is really fun," Mueller said.

Stan Smith, coach of the Southeast Missouri Storm -- gold medalists in the softball competition -- said his team was happy to be playing in familiar surroundings.

"It gave our athletes, their families and friends an opportunity to see them play in a state tournament. It's an opportunity that they don't always get because of the travel time," Smith said.

At a dinner and dance Saturday on the Southeast Missouri State University campus, athletes were able to leave behind the competitive nature of the weekend and the above-90 degree temperatures and socialize with each other.

Mueller said when she asked many of the athletes at the dance what they enjoyed most about the weekend they told her that they loved competing.

"Of course, they just love to play," she said. "They had a whole lot of fun at the dance, too. I don't know where they got the energy to dance."

Although the weekend was centered on the athletes and their performances, the event wouldn't have gone as smoothly without the more than 400 volunteers, Mueller added.

Volunteers helped staff set up and tear down materials at games, kept athletes hydrated and fed, and presented awards early Sunday.

A number of volunteers just came to watch the games and cheer on the competitors.

"They really truly run the event for us. We have a pretty small staff," Mueller said. "And if [the athletes] know they've got people there watching them they're really going to play up to that, try hard and do their best."

With all the positive feedback about Cape Girardeau from athletes and coaches, Mueller expects next year's State Outdoor Championships to be bigger.

"We'll have a wrap-up meeting in two weeks ... then take a couple months to sit back, be happy with what we did this year and then we'll start planning again," Mueller said.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

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