Moose-Sponsored Special Olympics Softball
Leaves Lasting Memories

Moose International Brings National Invitational to Elgin
Hannah Smith, Miss Illinois 2011, presented medals and ribbons to athletes and coaches at the conclusion of play on Aug. 29.
Her presentations elicited a series of emotions from the athletes.
Click on any photo to enlarge
The Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Championships opened Aug. 27 with a parade of athletes and a torch-lighting. Athletes from 13 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces competed, including athletes from Minnesota.
The culminating moment to the torch lighting ceremony came when Illinoisan James Williams lit the torch, flanked by Huntley police officers.
Three action shots from the Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Championships, which took place Aug. 27-29 at the Elgin (IL) Sports Complex.
Five photos showing the range of emotions that took place after teams and athletes competed in the Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Championships, which took place Aug. 27-29 at the Elgin (IL) Sports Complex.
 

 

MOOSEHEART, Sept. 8 - It didn’t take long for the positive comments to start arriving after the Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Championship finished its competition at the Elgin, IL Sports Complex.

 

Wrote one coach: “The combination between (Moose International) people and the folks from Special Olympics was a winning combination and I hope it will continue.”

 

Wrote another: “You know when something has an impact on your team when, before we went there, all they would talk about was getting some deep-dish pizza and, leaving for home with not a word about pizza and everything about the games and ‘can we go back next year?’”

 

A team from Mississippi sent an e-card and a further e-mail told the tale of an athlete who was unable to travel to the tournament due to a behavioral issue. On the team’s return, that absent athlete was there waiting for the team’s arrival - and one of his teammates, knowing how much he had wanted to travel to the tournament, presented him with his gold medal. As the team’s coach put it, this exchange took place “because a real teammate always supports each other.”

 

For one weekend, Aug. 27-29, the Moose and Mooseheart were central in the lives of athletes and coaches from 27 teams - a total of 500 athletes hailing from 13 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces.

 

The weekend’s festivities began with a dinner in the Mooseheart Fieldhouse, which moved outdoors at halftime of the Ramblers season-opening football game, where the crowd experienced the torch lighting and oath taking that marked the start of the competition. All teams lined up on Mooseheart’s track and applauded as the torch came through a tunnel between the crowd in the grandstand and the athletes, eventually ending at the flag pole to the north of the stadium, where the cauldron was lit.

 

“It built a sense of anticipation,” Moose International Director of Membership Shawn Baile said. “The reason we wanted the Opening Ceremony at Mooseheart was to give those athletes a sense of a stadium. And with it being the Opening Night of the football season and with the game taking place under the lights, it provided a spark for the event. It really set the tone.”

 

The teams played all day Saturday and Sunday, with medal ceremonies taking place throughout the day on Sunday. Between games and after the day’s play ended on Saturday, shuttle buses moved teams to and from Elgin, IL Lodge 799, which more than rolled out a red carpet for the competitors.

 

“People don’t understand how demanding the schedule is for this tournament,” Baile said. “The competition in the divisions on Saturdays meant teams played four games in the span of eight hours. And then they turned around and came back at 9 in the morning on Sunday and played another three or four games. It’s not just a test of these athletes’ skill, it’s a test of their will. They are constantly being asked ‘when you’re tired, can you find that energy to compete?’”

 

While the competition was important, and teams certainly played to win, there was a further dimension to the tournament - the spirit that led a gold medal-winning athlete to hand his medal to a teammate who was unable to compete.

 

There were high-fives, hugs, post-game discussions - all in a sense of brotherhood that is a hallmark of Special Olympics competition.

 

“As much as they wanted to win, they wanted their competition to do well,” Baile said. “And they were not shy in showing it. They were not shy in congratulating someone for hitting a home run or for showing praise to someone who’s not one of their teammates.”

 

There was a further bonus at the end of the weekend’s competition - all ribbons and medals were handed out by reigning Miss Illinois - Hannah Smith - whose interaction with the athletes was as precious to behold as was the interaction of the athletes amongst themselves.

 

“It’s a big deal,” Baile said, “to have someone who’s going to be involved in the Miss America pageant to take the time to come to our event and to spend the day interacting with everyone from players and coaches and volunteers to being a part in a number of the awards ceremonies. She was gracious and it added to the atmosphere of the event.”

 

The details to the 2012 event are still being finalized, Baile said, but that the Moose, Special Olympics and the Amateur Softball Association are all eager to work together to make next year’s event a success.

 

“I think that all parties involved in this are pleased with where we’ve gotten with this tournament in a relatively short amount of time,” Baile said. “We’re very open in our conversations with what we can do to improve the event. The fact that we are so open and constant in our communication allows us to be put together an event that runs so smoothly.”

 

Since its founding, Mooseheart has operated a complete, accredited kindergarten-through-high-school academic program, plus art, music, vocational training and interscholastic sports. It is an extremely nurturing and student-tailored program, with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-1.
                        
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
                        
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 230 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.

                       
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, FL founded in 1922; and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.

 

 

 

 
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