Special Olympics athletes relax and socialize

Sunday, August 14, 2011
People dance to the music during the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics Missouri State Outdoor Championships on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011, at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

Whether it's on the softball diamond, the tennis court or the golf course, the athletes gathered in Cape Girardeau this weekend for the Special Olympics Missouri 2011 State Outdoor Championships are here for the competition.

But the emotional and social benefits that Special Olympics offers are an important part of the mission of the organization.

Opportunities for recreation and socializing for the mentally disabled competitors are plentiful this weekend. The athletes wandered in and out of the Osage Centre from late Saturday morning and through the afternoon to enjoy lunch and to visit the displays of Victory Village.

Softball player Donna Wolf, of St. Charles, Mo., is 49 and has been in Special Olympics since she was 10 years old. She enjoyed the games that sponsors provided in the different booths at Victory Village.

"I like the money machine," said Wolf, referring to the booth whether athletes had a fixed time to grab as much play money out of the air as they could. They could then trade in the money for prizes.

Wolf was also proud of the souvenirs given away by the sponsors. Her souvenir bag contained items such as chips, batteries, posters and a hat. She said she likes Victory Village because "I get nice things given to me."

James Kindred of Kansas City, Mo., a member of the St. Joe Sluggers softball team from St. Joseph, Mo., looked forward to spending time at Cape Splash, the water park adjacent to Victory Village.

"Wherever we go, whether it be here in Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Joplin, Columbia, Jeff City, wherever, and it's a state tournament like this, we're always going to go swimming," said Wolf.

Kindred, 28, appreciates the variety of recreational activities available at Special Olympics events.

"It's a blessing because you can do so many things," said Kindred. "You don't have to be bored."

One of the events Kindred, Wolf and most of the other athletes were looking forward to was Saturday evening's dance at the Southeast Missouri State University Student Recreation Center.

"The dance is fun," Wolf said. "You get to see everybody, hang out with everybody and dance with different people."

Kayla Otte, one of the coaches of the Southeast Storm Unified team, said the dance is popular with the Storm players, who are from Southeast Missouri.

"The dance is probably one of their favorite times of the day," said Otte, who cited the opportunities the dance provides to get to know people from other parts of the state. "One of their favorite things about the state events is making new friends."

Rain wiped out softball scheduled for after Friday evening's opening ceremonies and delayed the resumption of play until 11 a.m. Saturday. As a result, games were being made up Saturday afternoon, cutting into the scheduled down time for some of the athletes.

Special Olympics Missouri public relations coordinator Mandi Steward said play should be completed today, barring more heavy rain.

Pat Tallvast, who coaches the softball team from St. Charles, Mo., said the atmosphere at a Special Olympics event is ideal for the athletes, who might not always be comfortable in some social settings.

"They don't have to try to impress anybody," said Tallvast, who has been coaching in Special Olympics for 20 years. "So many times people put them down and kind of back them off into a corner, but here they can be themselves, and they can have fun."

Tallvast said the rewards that the athletes get from Special Olympics go far beyond the medals and souvenirs they take home.

"The excitement that these kids get out of just coming to an event like this and being with so many people of their own kind, the happiness is just overwhelming," Tallvast said.

Pertinent address:

1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau

Map of pertinent addresses

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