It’s been another successful summer for the Special Connections of Grundy County athletes. Six of them have made it into the elite class by competing their way to the state finals.
Aaron Eucker, Katie Malcolm, Becky Lamango, Caitlin Cox, Max Herigodt and Lori Harvill advanced to the state competition by qualifying in either the 5-hole or individual skills competitions. Eucker, Malorim and Lamango are the 5-hole golfers and Harigodt, Cox and Harvill in individual skills.
“It’s two different kinds of golf,” Special Connections head of athletics Kelly Thompson said. “The individual skills athletes get points based on how they do with pitching and putting and things like that and the others go out and golf five holes.”
The Special Olympics state competition will be held at downstate Decatur on Sept. 14-15.
Golf has been available to special needs athletes for about approximately the last decade, including the last three years through Special Connections.
Other than the six elites on the team, many of the other approximate 100 area Special Connection athletes are gravitating towards other sports right now. On Tuesday, Thompson was taking the bowling team out to practice at Echo Lanes. She said that 55 of the 100 athletes have already signed up for bowling.
Golf, bowling, swimming, basketball, boccie ball and track and field are the events offered for the local athletes through Special Connections. A lot of them like to sign up for as many as they can.
“It would be really hard for someone to do them all. Swimming is a really long season,” Thompson said. “But we have some who will do five of the six sports that are offered.”
Special Connections President Jennifer Price said that part of the function of their group is focused on athletics.
“It’s one of the things we look at,” she said. “We want to provide them recreational activities so that they can get out and have some fun.”
While having fun is certainly the highest of goals for the Special Olympics competitions, there are those on the local team who want to take competing to the next level.
“Some are more competitive than others,” Thompson said. “I’d say it’s about 70-30 percent of those who are out there to win versus win first, but everyone does the best they can.”
Which is a good thing when you consider that the sports season for the locals run virtually year round.
“We never stop,” Thompson said. “There’s always something to do.”
Thompson said that watching the athletes at Special Connections in action has it’s own reward.
“It never gets old,” she said. “The athletes are the reason I’m involved with Special Olympics. Before coming to special connections, I had mainly worked with high school aged-athletes but now I’m working with athletes of all ages and that’s really fun for me.”
Fun and in a completive setting seems to be the formula for the success of Special Connections these days.
“I can’t think of very many athletes that don't do this for fun,” Thompson said. “If they go out and do the very best they can every time, they are going to be successful as individuals and the team is going to be successful too.”