Above: Thurston County softball team member Sam Spencer, left, gives a high five to a member of the Bremerton-Kitsap athletic team after a game at LBA Park in Olympia on Saturday afternoon.
By Janine Gates
Raucous cheers of support, gentle chiding between teammates, and lots of humor could be heard all day as Special Olympics Washington held its 2017 Southwest Region Softball Tournament at LBA Park in Olympia on Saturday.
“Way to go, Michaela!” and “Nice hustle, Adam!” could be heard coming out of the Cowlitz Black Bears’ dugout. The T-ball team from Kelso was playing a team from South Kitsap.
“Drink some water!” coaches, caregivers, and parents often urged.
“I’m hot,” said one player.
“So is everyone else – you’re no different,” replied his teammate.
Above: Henry, with the Bremerton-Kitsap athletic team, takes the batter's stance.
About 800 players and 48 teams participated in softball games organized at LBA Park and Yauger Park on Saturday, set at a variety of ability levels depending upon player abilities, said Jennifer Palmer, senior sports manager for Special Olympics Washington, who was staffing the registration table.
Traditional teams have several divisions made up of players working within a range of abilities. Unified teams made up of team members with and without disabilities also compete. If an individual’s skill set isn’t at the T-ball or traditional team level, they play other games.
She said the state is broken up into four regions for the tournaments. The Southwest region covers an area from the top of the Olympic Peninsula down to Vancouver, and includes Pierce County.
The teams that advance at the regional level will go to the state championships held August 18-20 in Everett.
Special Olympics Washington relies on many volunteers, including Tom McCann, who said he has been involved with Special Olympics for eight years.
While he was busy at the registration area, Palmer said McCann earned the 2007 Special Olympics Washington State volunteer of the year award because he comes to every event and has the great ability to anticipate a need.
Above: Bob Tauscher, coach for the Thurston County team, gives a high five to a player who just ran to home base.
Bob Tauscher, a coach for the Thurston County team, has been involved with Special Olympics for about 20 years, focusing on basketball and softball teams.
He said Thurston County is represented by several teams at all ability levels with players ranging in age from 12 to 63.
While getting his team ready for a game, he immediately credited Thurston County coach Mark Barker with organizing special education programs and teams out of his home for the last ten years. Barker was coaching Saturday at the Special Olympics tournament's Yauger Park location.
Thurston County dropped its funding for special education programs, amid serious outcry by participants, parents and advocates, several years ago.
“Mark is one heck of an awesome coach,” interjected Ali Chambers, 34, who says Barker has been her coach since 2006. She says she is more into soccer, but came to the tournament to cheer on her friends and take pictures.
“I’m the paparazzi,” she laughed.
“I’m the paparazzi,” she laughed.
Hal and Donna Spencer sat near the Thurston County team dugout, supporting the team and their son, Sam, aged 36.
Hal Spencer is a retired reporter for Associated Press, and spent his last 12 years in Olympia covering the Legislature.
Spencer says Special Olympics sports bring a lot of joy to people with developmental disabilities and those who support them. As a family, the Spencer's have been involved with Special Olympics for about 20 years.
In the past, Sam enjoyed participating with Left Foot Organics, a now-defunct organization that promoted self-sufficiency and inclusion for people with disabilities and rural youth while growing and selling organic food.
“Special Olympics help Sam feel like he’s part of something. Those on the spectrum often feel isolated. He enjoys the camaraderie,” added Donna Spencer.
For a history about Thurston County's specialized recreation programs and budget situation, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2009/04/public-hearing-on-thurston-countys.htmland www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2014/04/thurston-county-specialized-recreation.html
For a history of Left Foot Organics, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2012/06/uncertain-future-of-left-foot-organics.html
Above: There was lots of excitement as a South Kitsap team player got caught between second and third base. As the ball was thrown to third base, she ran back to second base.