If you ever feel down, just come to a Special Olympics event and you'll feel like smiling. Nothing brought me more joy than watching 23 athletes walking through the Milwaukee airport, dressed proudly in their Indiana National uniforms, medals around their necks and smiles as broad as their faces.
It was the Porter County Special Olympics National team coming home. Every one of them had medals, and that, in itself, is phenomenal.
But what makes it even more special is, these young people were jabbering away -- not about how great they were, but about their teammates and other athletes they met, or how good the food was, or how neat it was to fly for the first time, or how much they missed us.
I am not being sappy when I say our Special Olympians have attitudes not seen in many other sports. They could teach millionaire athletes the true way to show sportsmanship.
Our women's basketball team won every game in the preliminary and medal rounds. The ladies earned the Division 2 gold medal by beating Nebraska.
Head coach Angie MacKenzie said she was amazed at how well they played, with every athlete giving her all in every game. That's what adrenaline can do.
Assistant coach Larra Saager said it became even more special when other coaches, even referees, complimented our girls on their attitudes and sportsmanship.
As for the men's Porter County Hoosiers, coach Jim MacKenzie was sure they were trying to turn his hair gray by squeaking out last-minute wins. Entering the medal round, the team had lost only to Ohio, the opponent for the Division 3 title.
Down by nine points with minutes to go, the Hoosiers' conditioning paid off when, with 11 seconds left, they went up by three. Then, the horn sounded.
"It was so loud in the gym, with the whole place cheering for us, I felt like I was at the NCAA championships," MacKenzie said.
Assistant coach Chris Ellingsen said it was a real heart-stopper.
Then, there were bocce players Tammy Kmiec and Drew Metzger, who came home with one gold and three silver medals. Metzger is legally blind, but you'd never know it to watch him perform, nor will you ever hear him use it as an excuse to glean sympathy. He is an inspiration even to his fellow athletes and coaches for his "can-do" spirit.
"My goal for 12 years was to be chosen to go to nationals," Metzger said, "and the medals are an extra bonus."
Well-deserved, I might add.
Last, but far from least, is Jennifer Seeburger, our track athlete. This young lady is beautiful inside and out with her caring way.
Although it took her a long time to believe she could compete, once she did, it was all downhill.
Seeburger is partially paralyzed on her left side, but it never holds her back. She earned two fifth-place medals in the 400 and 800 walks, a bronze in the 1,500 walk, and a silver in the mini-javelin throw. Seeburger could have had the gold in that, but when one of the competitors was disqualified for an improper throw, Seeburger took her aside and helped her do it correctly.
You guessed it -- she did such a good teaching job that her rival took gold and Seeburger got the silver.
"I felt so excited that I could help someone do their best; I felt like I'd won both medals," she said.
Any wonder why we consider our Porter County athletes the true champions? If we all take a page from their playbook, perhaps we can be as thrilled as Jenny for helping others. Let's try it.
Then, I hope you have a great day because you deserve it. Thanks for reading. Fly your flag.
Nothing beats a gold medal, except, of course, another goal medal.
Porter County's men's and women's basketball teams both captured the top prize Friday at the Special Olympics USA National Games in Lincoln, Neb.
"The two teams have been a tight-knit group," men's coach Jim MacKenzie said. "As soon as we got done, we took some quick pictures and went upstairs to root them on."
The men's championship started 30 minutes before the women's, and it didn't take long for word of the men's dramatic 25-22 victory over Ohio to reach the women's bench as they were playing the second half.
"One of the parents came behind us and told us they'd won," women's coach Angie MacKenzie, Jim's wife, said.
"It's awesome for both teams to bring home the gold, both being from Porter County. I was fortunate enough to be with the team in 2006 (when they won nationals), and this ranks very high."
The women's game lacked the suspense of the men's, with Porter County racing to a 16-6 halftime lead en route to a 26-15 triumph over Nebraska Red. Ashley Kazen notched eight points, and Michelle Waisanen added a surprise hoop.
"Michelle's not one of our shooters, so it was awesome to see her get a basket," Angie MacKenzie said.
"It's really special for the women, because only four of the 10 (Waisanen, Lee Anne Bettenhausen, Lauren Bettenhausen and Katy Kelly) were on the team four years ago in Iowa. I'm so proud of the girls."
The men overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to prevail. They won in a similar fashion in the semifinals against Illinois on Thursday.
"I just told them (at halftime), 'Do you want this or not? If you don't want it, don't even go out there. This is not Hoosier basketball,'" Jim MacKenzie said.
"We pressed the whole game, and we just stepped it up in the second half. (Ohio was) making some very costly turnovers. Steven Crosby's defense came up big, and David Moscoe made some key free throws that really helped us out. It all came down to conditioning. We still had the speed. We still had the drive."
On the bus afterwards, the teams got on speaker phone to relay the good news to Porter County Special Olympics Coordinator Lorrie Woycik back home.
"It's a great honor and a great privilege," Angie MacKenzie said.
Porter County's big day was capped at the closing ceremonies, where Jennifer Seeburger of Hebron, a two-event medalist, was one of four athletes chosen to lead the entrance.
Playing in next week's Special Olympics USA National Games will only be part of the experience for Tony Gunter.
A member of the Porter County men's basketball team bound for Lincoln, Neb., Gunter will also get to watch younger sister Peggy compete for the women's squad.
"That makes it very special," Gunter said. "I don't know who all's on the list, but it's an honor to be on it. Not many (brothers and sisters) get to go together the same year. It's very hard to do. Win or lose, I'm proud, proud to think we're in the top 50 from all the states."
The Porter County teams won state titles in Terre Haute in March and then were both selected to make the trip to nationals. It marks the first time the same county will represent Indiana.
"We're all excited to have two teams going," said Jim Mackenzie, who coaches the men's team with Chris Ellingsen.
Mackenzie's wife, Angie, and Larra Saager direct the women's team, which has been practicing on Tuesday nights alongside the men at the Valparaiso Church of the Nazarene.
"It's an honor for Porter County," Saager said. "A lot of people have the wrong idea about Special Olympics. They don't think they're capable of doing anything, which is so wrong. I'd take our teams and put them up against any team you want. As a coach, I feel honored to be with them."
To be eligible, participants must have a special education need that requires an Individual Education Plan. Disabilities range from simple to complex, but when the players take the court, Mackenzie and Saager view them equally.
"They're all pretty much the same," Mackenzie said. "You can't really tell anybody has a disability.
"That's the nice thing about it. They've been together so long, you get to know their quirks, what buttons to push and not push. They work so well together. Every single person knows every single position. They have their ups and downs, but they are a very strong unit."
The ties don't stop with the Mackenzies and Gunters. Saager's daughter, 14-year-old Alison, is on the women's team. Sisters Lee Anne and Lauren Bettenhausen were part of the 1999 squad that played in the World Games in North Carolina.
"It works like a family," coach Saager said. "Sometimes, we argue like a family. One person has a strength in one thing and a weakness in another. They all teach each other."
That, Tony Gunter stressed, is the essence of Special Olympics.
"Helping people, helping teammates," he said. "That's what a team is."
Lee Anne Bettenhausen lends a hand with sister Lauren, whose limitations require her to live at the Bethesda Lutheran Group Home in Valpo rather than with the family in Kouts.
"I've gotten to see her grow up, learn new things, learn more about basketball," said Lee Anne, who is part of the Athlete Leadership Program.
"Some people are afraid at first. They're worried what their friends are going to think, that kids are going to make fun of them. Special Olympics shows 'regular' people we can do just as much as everybody else. You've just got to keep telling yourself you can do it. You're never going to be perfect. Just try your hardest."
Recent Wheeler High School graduate Andrew Walstra enjoys the low-pressure aspect of the Games.
"I played for the (Wheeler) football team, and it was all about winning," he said. "Special Olympics is all about having fun."
Walstra was the team's youngest player for several years until Steven Crosby, 16, was promoted to Masters from the Senior division.
"It gives me a chance to play with older people, to test my strengths against them," said Crosby, who plays soccer at Wheeler.
The men's team ranges in age from 16 (Crosby) to 28 (Rob Gray), while the women range from Alison Saager at 14 to Michelle Waisanen at 39.
"My philosophy is, I don't care what age they are, if they can hang with the big dogs, they can play with the big dogs," Jim Mackenzie said.
"I've had the team for about nine years, and we always have been and always will be a second-half team. We condition so much, we know we're going to be doing our best when others are dying out."
While both teams are aiming for success, they won't lose sight of the true meaning of the Games.
"It's a great experience for the athletes, coaches, parents," Saager said. "It's all about meeting new friends and just seeing the expressions on their faces. No matter who you're with, you go to have fun. If you don't, you're not doing what you're supposed to do."
For every athlete who participates in the Special Olympics, there is a story of how the Games have impacted their lives.
"Special Olympics has shown me all the things I can do," Jennifer Seeburger of Hebron said. "Knowing that other people believed in me really helped my confidence level. It got me out of my shell.
"I was very, very shy in high school. I didn't think I could do anything, especially sports. I never would've thought in a million years that I could do basketball, win a track meet or anything."
Seeburger, 35, is part of the Indiana delegation that will participate in the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games July 18-23 in Lincoln, Neb. A self advocate with The Arc of Indiana, she has come miles from the withdrawn girl who Porter County Coordinator Lorrie Woycik first met at age 9, after Seeburger was mildly paralyzed and disabled in a car accident when she was 6.
"The thing that's so cool about Special Olympics sports is, the experiences are kind of a learning tool," Woycik said.
"Jennifer took a long time. She had a terrible self image, zero self confidence. I always told her if I made her put a quarter in a jar every time she said she was sorry, I could go to Hawaii. Now she's an athlete leader. She does speeches. What a wonderful turnaround. That's the blessing of Special Olympics -- what it does for a person's life."
Drew Metzgar would certainly attest. Legally blind with cerebral palsy, the Lakes of the Four Seasons resident graduated from Valparaiso University with a Master's degree in history and sports management. He has been accepted into Northern Illinois University's blind education program, where he is working toward a Ph.D. in disability studies. He plans to learn how to teach the blind.
"The most important thing that Special Olympics taught me was self confidence, skills like public speaking," Metzgar said. "Swimming and Lorrie helped me develop that."
In 2006, Metzgar attended the Games in Iowa as a spectator. On a bus en route to a basketball game, he met Texas basketball player Leonard Flowers, a Special Olympian who played the character Jimmy in the 2005 movie, "The Ringer." He also was captured by the spirit of the event.
"I was really impressed by the level of competition," he said. "The camaraderie of the different people from different places was pretty amazing."
An accomplished swimmer before breaking his wrist in high school, Metzgar will play team and doubles bocce (lawn bowling) with a group that includes Tammy Kmiec of Crown Point.
"I'm not as fast as I used to be (swimming), so I started playing bocce," said Metzgar, describing the game as a grass version of curling. "There are a lot of swimmers, so my chances were a lot better with bocce. When I first started, I was doing it for fun. As it went on, I got a lot more serious. A lot of thinking goes into each shot."
The trip to Lincoln won't be Metzgar's first. He attended a Nebraska football game in 2008.
"We get to practice in the new facility for the football team," he said.
Seeburger will do the 400- and 800-meter race walks and the javelin throw. The javelin is a modified rubber-tipped version of the actual throwing spear.
"When Lorrie told me I'd be doing the javelin, I said, 'What?!'" Seeburger said. "I've never done it before. I'm still not very strong with it, but I'm getting better. I'm not looking for any medals, but a ribbon would be nice."
The trip will mark just the second time Seeburger, who will room with Erin Gunnick of Griffith, has ever flown.
"I'm excited," she said. "I've never been with that many athletes in one place before. I'm looking forward to meeting new people."
The Chicago Street Theatre and the Porter County Special Olympics have teamed up with Yeager’s Greenhouses for a Plant and Flower Sale that will take place 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 15 and 29 and noon to 4 p.m. May 16 and 30. Proceeds from the sale will benefit both organizations. Yeager's offers an extensive selection of both flowers and vegetables. In the photo Marcia Burbage, of the Chicago Street Theatre and Chris Ellingsen, of the Porter County Special Olympics, help a customer load flowers at the Yeager’s Plant and Flower Sale. Proceeds from the sale will benefit both the Porter County Special Olympics and the Chicago Street Theatre. FYI: (219) 477-8738 or www.chicagostreet.org
Porter County athletes to compete at Special Olympics
The Porter County Special Olympics program is sending 28 athletes and coaches to the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games, July 18-23 at the University of Nebraska.
Jennifer Seeburger, 35, from Valparaiso, and Cody Waters, 16, from Hebron, will participate in track and field events.
Tammy Kmiec, 44, from Crown Point, and Drew Metzger, 30, from Valparaiso, wil participate in bocce.
Porter County will field the only two basketball teams from Indiana. They include the women's team, which consists of Lauren Bettenhausen, Lee Ann Bettenhausen, Peggy Gunter, Debbie Hiland, Ashley Kazen, Emma Kopec, Carly Miller, Alison Saager, Michelle Waisanen and coaches Angie MacKenzie and Larra Saager; and the men's team, which consists of Steven Crosby, Rob Gray, Tony Gunter, Justin Kleine, Kyle Ladd, Maurice McComb, David Moscoe, Dustin Oehlman, Jordan Piper, Andrew Walstra and coaches Chris Ellingsen and Jim MacKenzie.
Dear Special Olympics Indiana Athletes,
Special Olympics Indiana is mourning the loss of the movement's founder and long-time champion for people with intellectual disabilities, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died early yesterday morning at Cape Cod hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts, surrounded by her family. She was 88 years old.
It is a sad time for members of the Special Olympics movement around the world. Mrs. Shriver was a remarkable person. She was the visionary and driving force behind an idea that has touched the lives of so many. She set the standard for how all Special Olympics leaders would move forward, determined to create a world where people with intellectual disabilities are accepted, included and respected.
This year, as we celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we see a world that has changed dramatically since the 1960s, thanks, in-part, to the Special Olympics movement. In Indiana, we cannot measure our success as a program without paying tribute to the amazing vision of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the infinite passion with which she executed that vision, ultimately transforming the lives of thousands of Hoosiers with intellectual disabilities.
“You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory. The right to play on any playing field? You have earned it. The right to study in every school? You have earned it. The right to hold a job? You have earned it. The right to be anyone’s neighbor? You have earned it.”
--Eunice Kennedy Shriver
1987 International Games
Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana
I cried when I heard these words for the first time as I sat in the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1987 International Special Olympics Games at Notre Dame University. I cry today as I hear these same words on the Web site created to honor the life of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver (www.eunicekennedyshriver.org).
I cried today for the same reason I shed my tears in 1987. Not in sadness, though her passing is heartbreaking, but in humility for the rightness of her vision. During a time of darkness for people with intellectual disabilities, Eunice came forward with a light that showed us in the Special Olympics Family a path to hope and dignity.
It is time for us to celebrate the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, then to embrace the responsibility each of us has in carrying forward the torch she brought into this world through Special Olympics.
--Michael Furnish, President & CEO
Special Olympics Indiana
What do you think Special Olympics Indiana should do to remember Eunice Kennedy Shriver? Reply to this email with your thoughts. You can also post tributes and memories of Mrs. Shriver at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org.
(CNN) -- Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy and a champion of the disabled who founded the Special Olympics, died Tuesday, the Special Olympics said. She was 88.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaks at a dinner in honor of the Special Olympics in July 2006.
Born on July 10, 1921, in Brookline, Massachusetts, Shriver was the fifth of nine children to Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. She emerged from the long shadow of siblings John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as the founder of the Special Olympics, which started as a summer day camp in her backyard in 1962.
Today, 3.1 million people with mental disabilities participate in 228 programs in 170 nations, according to the Special Olympics.
"She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others," the Shriver family said Tuesday in a statement.
"For each of us, she often seemed to stop time itself -- to run another Special Olympics Games, to visit us in our homes, to attend to her own mother, her sisters and brothers, and to sail, tell stories, and laugh and serve her friends."
No final decision has been made on funeral arrangements, a source close to the family said.
Shriver's husband, R. Sargent Shriver, and her five children and their spouses and all of her 19 grandchildren were with her when she died, the Special Olympics said in a statement. Watch a look at Eunice Kennedy Shriver's life »
"We are tremendously grateful for the extreme outpouring of support and prayer from the public as we honor our beloved founder," Brady Lum, Special Olympics president and chief operating officer, said in a statement Tuesday.
"Today we celebrate the life of a woman who had the vision to create our movement. It is an enormous loss, but I know we can rest assured that her legacy will live on through her family, friends, and the millions of people around the world who she touched and transformed."
Even before launching the Special Olympics in 1968, Shriver had established a reputation as an advocate for the disenfranchised and a trailblazer for the rights of the disabled through a variety of roles in the private and public sector.
She also persuaded the Kennedy family to go public with one of its most guarded secrets. In September 1962, Shriver wrote an article about her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary, which was published in The Saturday Evening Post.
At an event honoring her in 2007, Shriver spoke of her life: "Most people believe I spent my whole life really interested in only one thing and that one thing is working to make the world a better place for people with intellectual disabilities.
"As important as it has been, it is not the whole story of my life. My life is about being lucky as a child to be raised by parents who loved me and made me believe in possibilities. It is also about being lucky to have had these extraordinary children. ... It is also about being especially lucky to have a wonderful husband."Watch Shriver reflect on her life »
At the same event, Edward Kennedy paid tribute to his sister, saying she had inherited the best qualities from his parents, including compassion.
"She had that sense no one should be left out or left behind. She picked this up, obviously, at a very early age. All of us could see that special relationship that Eunice had with Rosemary."
After receiving a degree in sociology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Shriver worked for the U.S. State Department in the Special War Problems Division from 1943 to 1945, helping former prisoners of war readjust to civilian life.
From 1947 to 1948, she worked for $1 at the Department of Justice as executive secretary for the National Conference on Prevention and Control of Juvenile Delinquency. See highlights of Shriver's public and private life »
In the early 1950s, she was a social worker at a federal prison for women in West Virginia and in juvenile court in Chicago, Illinois.
She married Sargent Shriver Jr., a World War II veteran who was building his career as a lawyer and public servant, in 1953. The couple's five children include California's first lady, Maria Shriver.
Sargent Shriver had roles in many top government initiatives of the 1960s, including Head Start and the Peace Corps. He also worked with his wife on the Special Olympics. He ran President Johnson's War on Poverty and was U.S. ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970. He was Democrat George McGovern's running mate in the 1972 presidential election.
In 1957, Eunice Shriver became executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, which was established in 1946 to honor the family's eldest son -- who was killed in World War II -- to research the causes of disabilities and to improve the treatment of disabled people. Watch Shriver receive a special honor »
Her work with the foundation paved the way for a number of initiatives furthering the cause of disability advocacy. In 1962 she helped establish the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a government agency that conducts research on topics related to the health of children, adults and families that was named after Shriver in 2008.
Disturbed by the treatment of disabled people in institutions across the country in the 1950s and 1960s, Shriver began inviting disabled children to a summer day camp, called Camp Shriver, on her farm in Maryland. Her vision expanded over the years, and in July 1968 the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago.
She also assisted in the establishment of a network of university-affiliated facilities and intellectual disabilities research centers at major medical schools across the United States, including centers for the study of medical ethics at Harvard and Georgetown universities in 1971.
In 1981, Shriver began the Community of Caring program to reduce disabilities among babies of teenagers. That led to the establishment of Community of Caring programs in 1,200 public and private schools from 1990 to 2006.
Along the way, Shriver earned worldwide accolades and awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame's Founder's Award and nine honorary degrees.
In 1995, the U.S. Mint issued a commemorative coin with her portrait. The Mint says that made her the first living woman to be depicted on an American coin.
In 2009, a painting of Shriver with several Special Olympians was added to the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. See images from Shriver's life »
Her health began to fail in recent years, landing her in the hospital in 2005 after a minor stroke and hip fracture. She was hospitalized again in 2007 for an undisclosed ailment.
In addition to her husband and daughter, Shriver is survived by her sons Robert Sargent Shriver III, Timothy Perry Shriver, Mark Kennedy Shriver and Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver.
BARNSTABLE, Mass. - Well wishes from Special Olympians and their families have poured in for founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who remained in critical condition Sunday at Cape Cod Hospital.
The younger sister of John F. Kennedy has been weakened in recent years by a series of strokes. She lives in Hyannis Port, near the family compound where her brother, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, has been staying as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer.
The 88-year-old Shriver organized the first Special Olympics in 1968, inspired in part by the struggles of her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary.
Cards, calls and e-mails from across the globe for Shriver show just how many lives have been affected by her work on behalf of people with mental disabilities, Special Olympics spokeswoman Kirsten Seckler said.
"We've been forwarding all of the comments and e-mails and everything to (the family)," Seckler said. "They are overwhelmed with the amount of support."
Many of the messages are being posted on a tribute wall at EuniceKennedyShriver.org.
One of them reads: "Thank you so much. Because of you people like me are seen as valued not as incapable."
The first Special Olympics in Chicago was a two-day event that drew more than 1,000 participants from 26 states and Canada. The 2007 Special Olympics World Summer games in Shanghai involved more than 7,500 athletes from 164 countries.
"It's probably the most tangible piece of her legacy," Seckler said. "But her legacy is what she has been able to do to change the world for people with intellectual disabilities. Her work has led to a new way of thinking for people to accept, include and see the value of people with intellectual disabilities."
Shriver is the fifth of nine Kennedy children. Edward Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith are her sole surviving siblings.
SO What? July 24, 2009
Athlete Corner Chance
to go to Nationals for track & field - by Jennifer Seeburger,
When Lorrie Woycik first told me that she was putting my name into the hat for a national competition in track, I was excited. Thoughts like, “I never got first” and “it’ll NEVER happen” started running through my head, but I just kept praying and doing my best in hopes that I “might” be picked on a wild card. Little did I know that I would get first place in the 800 meter walk and would have a chance of going.
I had done poorly in my other events, and only having 2 left, I NEVER thought the 800 meter would be my first place. I had walked in a 400 meter, getting last place, and run the 50 meter getting a fifth.
My last 2 events were the 800 meter walk, which I KNEW that I had no chance of winning and the softball throw. Well after getting 2nd in the throw, I kind of gave up on the idea of nationals. Little did I know, God had other plans. In order to keep events running on time, the judges put all of the divisions together. Since I didn’t know who was in my division, I felt no stress; and unlike the 400 meter walk, I started out slowly and built in intensity. I am so grateful that I was given another chance to do what I couldn’t do in the 400 meter walk.
It was a most exciting phone call from the state Special Olympics office to hear Scott Mingle say, "Do you think you could raise enough money to send two teams to nationals next summer?"
Needless to say, the answer was a resounding "yes."
Having one team represent our state is fantastic. But to have the men's and women's teams so honored is an absolute stunner. What makes it even more special is that the coach for the Porter County Hoosiers is Jim MacKenzie, and the Porter County Shock women's coach is Angie MacKenzie. The couple met through volunteering for Special Olympics and have a lifetime commitment to each other and our athletes.
Shock players include Lauren Bettenhausen, Leeanne Bettenhausen, Allyson Saager, Michele Waisanen, Katy Kelly, Carly Miller, Emma Kopec, Deb Hiland and Ashley Kazen.
The Hoosiers, who are three-time state champions, include Dustin Oehlmann, Rob Gray, Jordan Piper, Maurice McComb, Steve Crosby, Andrew Walstra, Justin Kleine, David Moscoe, Tony Gunter and Kyle Ladd.
Although athletic ability and skill level are important parts of qualifying, there also is an evaluation process, unknown to the teams, throughout the tourney, judging such things as attitude, character and behavior on and off the court.
Congratulations to both teams and their coaches. Everyone in Porter County Special Olympics is proud of you. You are my pet persons of the week.
Recently, Mike Karris, the husband of one of my best friends, needed the services of the Hospice Center. Although it usually means the end of life is near, the atmosphere and surroundings give families a feeling of peace and calm. There aren't enough words to describe the caring staffers and the kindness they show.
The eighth annual Stroll for Hospice will begin and end Sunday at the VNA building at 501 Marquette St. Registration is $10 and begins at noon. The event starts at 1 p.m. It is hoped strollers will obtain pledges from others as a way to honor someone they love.
Afterward, there will be entertainment, a cookout and a raffle, plus awards.
Visit the Web site www.vnaportercounty.org or call 462-5195 for more details.
Then, I hope you have a great day because you deserve it.
Thanks for reading.
Fly your flag.
Lorrie Woycik has been active in Porter County for more than 40 years, including coordinating Special Olympics.
Porter County is sending four of its teams to the state finals this weekend. The 3on3 Starters (Shelly Volk, coach); Junior Division team, Heat (Rick Volk, coach); Senior team, Boilermakers (Mike Scifries and Mike Catania, coaches); and Masters team, Hoosiers (Jim MacKenzie, coach) will be taking their talents to Indiana State University. Besides their awesome basketball talents, all these players and coaches exemplify what sports are all about.
An enormous thanks to Valparaiso High School, Flint Lake Elementary School and S.E.L.F. for the use of their facilities all season. Included in that group are Bill Lieske, Connie McKinney and Rich Cross, who provided for every need.
Without Valparaiso University, there would be no sectional. Besides the facility, events manager Adam Klos and athletic head trainer Rod Moore devote their entire Saturday. Then there are the delightful Valpo Key Club members who, I'm sure, have other things to do on a warm spring day. Taylor Granat, Brendan Simison, Zach Moustis, Bryan Kaluis, Dan Lawson and Marty Meyer took care of scoring and timing all 15 games. Once again, Tim Roeske and his quality referees brought their expertise. Our coaches, parents, and athletes voted all of you our pet persons of the week.
Did you know that March is Disability Awareness Month? Most of us think immediately of those who have developmental disabilities, but after receiving a letter from Victoria Cortina, I realized what a frightening disability blindness can be. She has been wearing glasses for nearsightedness all her life. When she was 32, after seeing "floaters" in her left eye, she was diagnosed with a retinal tear. Many surgeries and disappointments later, this new mom was blind in her left eye, which required relearning everything. When "floaters" appeared in her right eye 3? years later, total blindness was an emotional fear. But thanks to having it immediately diagnosed, Victoria still has her sight. She shares her story so others will value their eyes and get regular checkups. She would be glad to have anyone e-mail her at mvjcortina@ yahoo.com.
Thanks, Victoria, God's blessings.
Now I hope you all have a great day, because you deserve it. Thanks for reading. Fly your flag.
Lorrie Woycik has been active in Porter County for more than 40 years, including coordinating Special Olympics.
By Heather Augustyn
Times Correspondent | Sunday, March 22, 2009 | (No comments posted.)
VALPARAISO | Coaches rifled through their folders
for papers revealing competition brackets as they stood on the
sidelines shouting plays to their teams. Fans sat on bleachers with
signs bearing the words "defense!" and "rebound!"
It was tough competition at Valparaiso University's Athletics-Recreation Center on Saturday as about 250 members of the Northern Indiana Special Olympics Basketball League competed to qualify for the state tournament.
Jim MacKenzie, co-director of the tournament and coach of the Porter County Hoosiers team, said the competition involves ages 8 to 18 for those in Lake, Porter, Marshall, Starke, LaPorte, Elkhart and St. Joseph counties. It incudes three-on-three games, five-on-five games, skills competitions and unified sports.
"We are the only basketball league for Special Olympics outside of Indianapolis, and this year, Special Olympics in Indiana celebrates its 40th anniversary," MacKenzie said.
The competition brings much more than a simple win or trip to a state tournament. For these athletes, the name of the game is building skills.
"This builds the athletes' confidence, character, and gives them an overwhelming sense of belonging, which is important because that allows them to interact and to be more powerful when they go out into the world. I couldn't be prouder of my kids," Shelly Volk, coach of The Starters, the two-time three-on-three team state champion.
Marge Moravec, coach of the Lake County Hot Wings three-on-three team, said her son Bobby Moravec has Down syndrome and is a great athlete on her team.
"He just loves it. It has enabled him to talk to anybody about sports, and we watch games together on television," she said.
Lorrie Woycik, Porter County coordinator for the tournament, says Valparaiso University's donation of the school's facility and staff is meaningful to the Special Olympics, and also is a big deal for the teams.
"For our athletes to use a facility like this, it makes them believers of the I can spirit, and more importantly, it shows others the I can spirit. It levels the playing field," Woycik said.
The leveling of the playing field is critical to the players, MacKenzie said.
"They realize that sometimes their disabilities don't make them disabled. Everyone is equal here," MacKenzie said.