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Black Hills athletes 'pumped' for Special Olympics games

The Rapid City Journal - 7/2/2018

David Tanner is looking forward to going to Seattle for the first time in his life for the sights, but competing in the Special Olympics USA Games is something he can't wait to do again.

Tanner is among seven Rapid City-area Special Olympians selected to the 51-member Team South Dakota that will compete in the national event that begins Sunday with the Opening Ceremonies and runs through Friday.

"It is a lot of fun and I am very excited," said Tanner, who will be a pitcher on the Team South Dakota softball squad. "It's an experience playing against other states."

The Special Olympians will compete in five sports with over 4,000 athletes and coaches representing 50 state programs and the District of Columbia. The Opening Ceremonies is expected to be televised by ABC, with wrapups and live events on the ESPN networks all week.

"Ultimately, it will be about going out, experiencing the trip and meeting some new friends," said Joe Burmeister, director of Special Olympics for Black Hills Works and Black Hills Storm coach, who will also be competing with Special Olympian Matt Morin as a unified partner in bocce ball. "It will be a chance for some of our local mid-size, small-town folks to be on a national stage and do something. It is a once in a lifetime event."

Team South Dakota flew to Seattle on Saturday and will return July 7.

"Getting this experience is awesome," said Amy Jobgen, head softball coach for Team South Dakota. "Everybody is so pumped, so excited. When they were announced who was on the team, there was a lot of jumping up and down, just screaming and hollering. It was so much fun, and it is an accomplishment to be selected to go. It's a huge honor. It means a world to them to go."

Along with Tanner and Morin, other members of the Black Hills Storm (adults) and Black Hills Flame (younger Special Olympians) that will compete include: Megan Mills and Addison Whitney in swimming, and Derrick Boegel, Mike Estman and Josh Gilbert in softball.

Other Black Hills-area athletes attending include: Kent Mulholland in swimming, Garet Alickson in basketball, Eva Blake in softball and Gary Alickson in bocce. All are from Spearfish.

Other area coaches include Cathy Grubb of Belle Fourche and Rich Mulholland of Spearfish in swimming, while TeaLayna Hill of Belle Fourche is an unified partner in bocce.

In the softball competition, teams will compete in pool play before they advance to the medal round.

There are 15 players on the Team South Dakota softball team.

"It's really an all-star team that is going," Jobgen said. "We've had a couple of practices where we all traveled across the state to meet each other and then practice of a team. It's really just a gathering of all of us coming together, playing our hardest against other states."

Tanner has some national experience, playing basketball four years ago at the USA Games in New Jersey. He is excited about playing softball this time around.

"Winning is a good experience, but we just try to do our best," Tanner said. "We have a pretty good team."

Bocce has been a sanctioned Special Olympics sports in South Dakota for just the last couple of years. Morin said he is also looking forward to competing, and he looks to have all kinds of fun. "I just like to play it," he said. "I'm excited to go."

Burmeister said that the unified partners in bocce are like a community partner for the Special Olympians. In South Dakota, they can play singles or doubles (two Special Olympians) or with a unified partner. At the USA Games, it is all unified.

Burmeister said it is like a backyard sport, similar to horseshoes, bean bag or cornhole, but with a rolling ball.

"It's a fun sport and the newest sanctioned sport in South Dakota Special Olympics," he said.

The experience for the Special Olympians at the USA Games is not just about competing, but also establishing new friendships.

"When you go to state tournament, you always see people you know, and for a lot of people, they are lifelong friends that they compete against," Burmeister said. "This is exciting because you are going to the unknown and competing against people you have never seen.

While they are there, the Special Olympians are expected to do a little sightseeing in such Seattle landmarks like the Space Needle and the Pikes Place Fish Market. They are also scheduled to watch a Seattle Mariners baseball game together.

"Being selected is definitely a big honor. The excitement is building," Burmeister said Tuesday after the Rapid City Special Olympians posed for a picture. "Everybody has their uniforms and got to try them on, and the talk of representing Team South Dakota has gotten bigger. We're getting on a plane to go to a place we have never been before and competing against people we have never seen before."

Burmeister said the athletes worked hard to get this opportunity, adding that the community of Rapid City has been a big help as well.

The athletes raised about $3,500 for the trip.

"We want to thank Rapid City for supporting the athletes," Burmeister said. "It never ceases to amaze me how this town comes together."


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