Local Special Olympians shine during bocce ball competition

MARSHALL?-?Whether they got a ribbon or not, the participants in the Special Olympics Bocce Ball competition on Saturday at Legion Park were all smiles.

“We couldn’t ask for a better day, event or venue. Bocce ball is a wonderful sport that is easy to learn and fun to play,” said Doug Goodmund, assistant director for Marshall Community Services.

Southwest Minnesota State University’s new president, Connie Gores, had the honor of throwing the first ball to start off the competition.

“I was asked by Professor (Marilyn) Strate to do this. It must have been beginner’s luck that I did that well. I have never done this before. Thankfully, we have YouTube, so I could look up how to play bocce ball. I’m happy to be involved in such a great event,” Gores said.

Maria Vankeulen and Ross Abraham also had the opportunity to participate with Gores in the opening match. Both are athletes for the Marshall division of Special Olympics.

“Football is my favorite sport, but I have played bocce ball since it started,” Abraham said.

“I play everything. I don’t care if I win,” said Kevin VanLeeuwe, a Marshall athlete.

Special Olympics originally started in Illinois in 1969. It came to Minnesota in 1973.

“Every state has a chapter in the United States. It is a world wide organization and the fastest growing non-profit organization,” said Mike Kane, sports program manager for Special Olympics.

“I became involved when I helped in the 1991 World Games in Minneapolis. There were over 2,000 athletes competing. It’s safe to say I ‘caught the bug’ and have been working with Special Olympics ever since,” Kane added.

Minnesota offers 17 Olympic events. There are events going on all year. Athletes have opportunities to travel all over as they compete at the regional, state, national and world levels.

“Each season is about three months and as soon as one sport is done, the next is starting,” Kane said.

There are many amazing people that make Special Olympics in southwest Minnesota possible. Each year, they have a chance to be recognized.

Marilyn Strate, the head coach for Marshall, was nominated for the Coach of the Year Award and recently found out that award is hers.

“I coach all eight sports that Marshall has to offer: unified flag football, bowling, swimming, power lifting, basketball, track, horseback riding and bocce ball,” Strate said. “As a college student, I became involved in Special Olympics. I love sports, but these athletes are especially fun to be around.

Another award that is given is the Spirit Award. The award goes to one volunteer each year. Cathy Morris of Redwood Falls will be the recipient at the Treasure Island banquet on Sept. 21.

“I was absolutely shocked when I found out that I was chosen. I don’t do this for any award but because I love to do it. I couldn’t believe it. There are over 21,000 volunteers, and I was chosen. That was definitely a ‘wow’ moment when I found out on Thursday. I still can’t believe it,” Morris said.