Nothing spared at Special Olympics

Jen Andresen (left) of Champaign helps Jason, 14, bowl at a Special Olympics bowling competition Sunday at Western Bowl in Champaign. Nick Kohout

Jen Andresen (left) of Champaign helps Jason, 14, bowl at a Special Olympics bowling competition Sunday at Western Bowl in Champaign. Nick Kohout

By Ashley Poynter

Jack Hyatt, 31, proudly hoisted his gold medal with both hands to onlookers Sunday.

Hyatt was one of about 130 athletes and volunteers who participated in day two of the Special Olympics bowling tournament held at G.T.’s Western Bowl, 917 Francis Drive, in Champaign on Sunday.

The Eastern Prairie area of Special Olympics Illinois hosted the annual two-day bowling tournament for Illinois residents with mental and physical disabilities.

“They’re finally getting the opportunity to show society that they can do anything that they want to do, just like us so-called ‘normal’ people,” said Georgeann Kulton, Eastern Prairie area director for Special Olympics Illinois.

Marie Reitmeier, volunteer director of the Eastern Prairie area, said opening ceremonies like those in the international Olympic Games started the day, including the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

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Athletes from the Area 8 division, which includes Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Kankakee, Piatt and Vermilion counties, bowled from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. while family and friends cheered them on.

Among the onlookers were Freda and Larry Norenberg, who said they drove 50 miles from Hoopeston to watch their daughter Michelle, 31, bowl. She has participated in Special Olympics since she was in junior high, Freda Norenberg said.

“She loves being with other kids – they’re all kids,” she said.

The athletes came from 21 different agencies, such as group homes, schools and park districts, where they were trained by certified coaches. They came as teams and as individuals, Reitmeier said.

Wheelchair-bound athletes used a metal ramp to propel the ball down the lane, Reitmeier said. Volunteers are allowed to hand the athletes the ball or place it on the ramp, but the athletes must push it themselves, she said.

About 30 to 40 volunteers from groups such as Volunteer Illini Projects, Knights of Columbus and Women of Color assisted the athletes in carrying bowling balls, serving lunch and cheering them on.

“They were pumped up,” Alicia Wojcik, senior in LAS, said of the athletes. Wojcik came with a group of students from Allen Residence Hall to help in the event.

Reitmeier said that volunteers play an important role in events like this and their attendance is crucial.

“You could have 100 athletes, but if you don’t have the volunteers and the coaches, you’re not going to have an event,” Reitmeier said. “It’s important that if they sign up, they try to make it.”

Athletes who won a gold medal yesterday will be invited to the sectional competition on Oct. 23. Then, the gold medal winners from that event will move on to the state competition in Peoria, Ill. on Dec. 3.

Special Olympics Illinois is a non-profit organization that raises money through fundraisers and sponsorship. Through efforts such as raffling tickets at the State Fair and golf outings, Special Olympics Illinois is able to offer this event, including food, at no cost to the athletes.

Representatives from Special Olympics Illinois and volunteers agreed that the event was a success and a lot of fun to do.

“It’s so rewarding to watch these athletes, whether old or young, have so much fun,” Reitmeier said.