Batters up for Special Olympics softball

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Richard Emry of Farmington, Mo., stepped up to the plate, kicked the dirt with his left toe, tapped the end of his bat to the plate and stood poised, waiting for the pitch.

"Come on, Richard! You can do it, buddy!" Emry's teammates shouted from the dugout. "Keep your eyes on the ball and hit it hard."

With the first swing of the bat, Emry knocked the ball into center field.

"Run, Richard, run!" called his teammates excitedly.

Emry ran around the bases as fast as he could, arms pumping, trying to beat the ball home. The throw was late.

"You did it, Richard! A home run!" called his friends.

Encouragement and enthusiasm abounded at all five softball fields Saturday at the Missouri Special Olympics District Tournament, held at the Shawnee Sports Complex in Cape Girardeau.

More than 200 athletes from several cities throughout southern and eastern Missouri competed at the annual competition for a chance to go to the state tournament at Jefferson City in August.

Scott Williams with the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department said the top two finishers in each division move onto the state tournament, but everyone walks away a winner.

Each game lasts seven innings or one hour and 15 minutes, whichever comes first.

The top three teams in each division -- T-ball, coach pitch, regulation and unified -- receive gold, silver and bronze medals. If there are four teams in a division, the fourth-place team receives ribbons.

Ryan Ewing of Cape Girardeau and his team, the Southeast Storm, took home silver medals at the state competition last year.

The team lost both games Saturday, leaving them in fourth place in their division and unqualified to go to the state tournament next month.

Ewing said he was just trying to stay cool in the hot summer heat.

"I'm drinking a lot of water and staying in the shade a lot," he said.

Ewing's teammate, Johnnie Martin, tried to concentrate on the game instead of the heat.

"I just keep trying to catch the fly balls," he said. "I caught one."

The Southeast Storm has 13 players and plays in the unified division. That's the division where the coaches play with the team.

Coach Bill Mack says they practice once a week for about eight to 10 weeks in the summer.

"It's just fun," he said. "We have a blast with all of the girls and guys. They like playing with us as much as we like to play with them."

Not as competitive

Umpire Darrell Potts says the Special Olympics tournament is all about the fun.

"It's not so competitive," said Potts, who also umpires city league softball. "And they're a lot more friendly than the city teams. I'm really enjoying it."

Emry's team, the St. Francois County All-Stars from Farmington, had a lot of fun Saturday.

"My favorite thing is playing with the team," said pitcher Owen Jones. "But I don't play just to play, I play to win."

Emry and his teammates took first place in their division Saturday with 10-10 tie and a 12-5 win over the Lincoln County Roadrunners.

The St. Francois County All-Stars, and all of the other winners from the Cape Girardeau tournament, will take on the winning teams from the Kansas City, Columbia and Ft. Leonard Wood divisions for the state title.

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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