A leader honored

MARSHALL – She started out as a Special Olympics athlete hugger as a college student and ended up embracing the entire program.

Marilyn Strate of Marshall has been named Special Olympics Minnesota’s Outstanding Coach for 2013. Special Olympics Minnesota offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round sports training and competition.

According to an SOMN news release, “Strate is a fundamental part of the Marshall Public Schools Special Olympics. As a year-round coach she is fiercely devoted to the athletes, as well as the program.”

Strate, a wellness and human performance professor at Southwest Minnesota State University, compiled a 225-138 record in eight seasons as head coach of the Southwest Minnesota State University (SSU) softball team. She has been a Special Olympics coach in Minnesota since 1999.

“It’s an honor and it’s humbling,” she said of the award. “But (receiving an award) is not why I’m in this. I love sports and I love the Special Olympics. (The athletes) are in it for the right reasons. It’s fun and they want to be with their friends.”

Strate appreciates how the athletes cheer for each other.

“They encourage each other,” she said. “I told one athlete, Ross Abraham, he could be a coach the way he was clapping for his friends.”

Strate remembers being assigned to hug the athletes after they finished their event when she was a student in the late 1970s at Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb. That experience inspired her to stay with the program throughout her career as an educator.

Strate says Marshall Area Special Olympics now does aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, equestrian and power lifting.

“We started with just track,” she said.

Strate said there are about 65 athletes from the Marshall area, ages 4 through 69.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” she said.

Strate said the volunteers are SMSU students, parents, group home staff – “anyone interested can volunteer.”

Strate coordinates the team competitions and, with her at the helm, the team has attended area, regional and state competitions. Next year, for the first time, the Marshall Area Special Olympics has athletes going to nationals.

“Deb Picht will go as a coach, Marissa Davis as a swimmer and Kari Groebner will be bowling,” she said. “That’s exciting.”

The event will take place in the summer of 2014 in Princeton, N.J.

Besides coaching, Strate heads the team’s fundraising efforts, coordinating spaghetti dinners, raffles and silent auctions. She also partners with local business to help with funding.

The Outstanding Coach award is bestowed annually to a coach who is dedicated to transforming the lives of SOMN athletes. Strate will receive the award at a Distinguished Service Award banquet during an SOMN leadership conference Sept. 21 at Treasure Island Resort and Casino.

For more information or to buy tickets for the award ceremony and banquet, visit specialolympicsminnesota.org/games-events/dsas/.