The Southeast Iowa Special Olympic Spring Games will be hosted by Iowa Wesleyan University at Mapleleaf Athletic Complex on Saturday, April 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., welcoming more than 150 athletes from southeast Iowa to compete against each other for the chance to quality for Special Olympic State Games.
“We really hit on the motto of Special Olympics: ‘Let me win, but let me be brave in the attempt if I do not win,’” said Brad Benge, area director for Southeast Iowa Special Olympics. “Many athletes compete in different events each year and grow in what they can do and build confidence. They are brave to try new things.”
Opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m., with a parade of athletes and a man parachuting in with the American flag. Throughout the day, athletes will compete in softball and track and field. Softball, the standing long jump, wheelchair races and walking and running races can be viewed throughout the day. The shot put competition and running long jump is at 10:30 a.m. TurboJav is at 10:50 a.m. Tennis is at 11:50 a.m. Lunch and carnival dance goes from 11:20 a.m. to 1 p.m. Special Olympics will wrap up around 3:30 p.m.
About a dozen teams are expected to compete Saturday including a team from Mt. Pleasant and Danville. Athletes who have competed in Special Olympics for 10 years and 20 years will be recognized, something new to the Southeast Iowa spring games.
“Some of these individuals start competing when they are eight years old. We have some athletes in their 50s and 60s. It’s nice to be able to recognize them,” Benge said.
Benge said that while some high school athletes may go on to compete in college and later join a recreational league, they don’t get to do it for 10 plus years like Special Olympic athletes. In Special Olympics, however, athletes get to meet people from their region and even develop friendships with people across the country if they go on to state or beyond.
“What other activity do you know of that has eight year olds competing at a state level?” Benge asked.
Special Olympics also has some unified teams, which includes special athletes competing with non-special athletes like family members, Benge said. “It really becomes a family activity,” he said.
This will be the fifth year Iowa Wesleyan University is preparing to host Southeast Iowa Special Olympic Spring Games, although the 2018 spring games were canceled because of weather. Benge said that IW and the Mt. Pleasant community have done a “fantastic” job of supporting Special Olympics.
“It will be great if we can have other people come (as spectators) besides family members because most people have no clue what a district competition looks like,” Benge said. “There’s a broad spectrum of competition. It’s amazing to watch. There’s such a difference in sportsmanship and the way they approach the competition.”
Anna Zander, sports information director at IW, said that the support from the Mt. Pleasant and campus community is so important in hosting this event.
“It’s a great day, a big event with everyone helping out,” Zander said.
Zander said that many students on campus know someone participating in Special Olympics. Others have never seen the competition before and it “opens their eyes” to see the excitement of the athletes participating.
“It’s a great event for the campus and the community,” Zander said.
Special Olympics is free to the public. Concessions will be available.