Cape preparing for second year of Special Olympics summer games

Thursday, August 11, 2011
Penny Williams, right, cheers on Elijah Pobst, 5, as she completes the obstacle course with her brother C.J. closing in behind her with help from volunteer Sarah Mittrucker on Wednesday during the Special Olympics young athletes program at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau. Ten families attended the program, which is in its first year in Cape Girardeau. The Special Olympics State Outdoor Championships kick off with golf at 8 a.m. Friday at Arena Park and continue through Sunday. Events in the championship are golf, softball and tennis. (Laura Simon)

Cape Girardeau will welcome 835 athletes and coaches to town this weekend as it hosts the Special Olympics State Outdoor Championships for the second year.

In 2010, the city started a four-year run as the host for the summer games, which are golf, tennis and softball.

"Last year was fantastic. Cape Girardeau's venues are really first class. Our athletes and coaches were really impressed," said Mandi Steward, public relations coordinator with Special Olympics Missouri.

Organizers are expecting more participation than last year, with eight additional softball teams registered.

"Last year a lot of the teams from Kansas City decided not to come because of the distance," said Troy Vaughn, recreation director at Southeast Missouri State University, who leads the city's Special Olympics Games Management Team. "That's the one thing in Cape we have going against us. They have to travel to the southeast corner of the state."

Both Vaughn and Steward said that after teams came to the State Outdoor Championships they went home and told other teams what they were missing out on.

Christine Estes of Scott City and her son Sammy, 3, play with a hula-hoop Wednesday, August 10, 2011 during the Special Olympics young athletes program at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau. Ten families attended the young athletes program, which is in it's first year in Cape Girardeau. The Special Olympics State Outdoor Championships kick off Friday. (Laura Simon)

"This year that region will be represented in full, and we're very excited about that," Vaughn said. "A lot of the athletes that were here last year will be coming back, but we'll have a lot of new athletes as well."

Cape Girardeau's businesses will also get a boost this weekend, according to Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. Martin expects the Special Olympics competition to have a total economic impact of $440,000.

He's projecting the event will bring about 2,000 visitors, including family members of the 835 athletes and coaches participating.

Visitors who come to Cape Girardeau for sports competitions typically spend about $110 per person per day on lodging, food, fuel and other items.

"We are always actively recruiting potential business to the community, and I'm happy to report that in the area of sports there are a number of great events that we've recently landed," Martin said. For the first time in more than 75 years, Southeast Missouri will host a Missouri State High School Activities Association state championship. For the next four years, the state high school volleyball championships will take place at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau. The Dalhousie Golf Club will host a couple of classes of the state golf championships as well, Martin said.

"We will definitely continue to seek out additional events such as the Special Olympics Outdoor Championships in the future," he said.

About 25 local people make up the city's Special Olympics Games Management Team, which has raised nearly $100,000 from local sponsors and recruited almost 400 volunteers to put on the games.

"Watching the athletes compete, watching our volunteers and watching our team and watching the community support them made everything worthwhile for us. It puts those athletes in the limelight for once," Vaughn said.

Many of those athletes work just as hard or harder than college or professional athletes.

"They don't get that recognition they deserve. That's the rewarding part for me is to see them get that recognition and see them get those medals," he said.

The public is encouraged to attend the games to help cheer on the athletes, Vaughn said. Events begin Friday morning and continue through at 11 a.m. Sunday. They include tennis, golf and softball competitions to be held at various locations across town, including Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Jaycee Municipal Golf Course and several city parks facilities.

The opening ceremony will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the Arena Park grandstand, with performances by the Jackson High School band.

The event will change next year. The organization is combining what is now four statewide competitions into two competitions. Instead of three sporting events, next year Cape Girardeau will host six events expected to draw about 1,000 athletes. That event will also be held later in the year, likely in mid-October, Steward said.

"We were so impressed with Cape. We knew you would have the facilities and be able to host one of these big events," she said.


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