Saturday, September 09, 2000

Baseball tourney Special

Plenty of volunteers assist as 39 teams try for medals in N. Ky.

By Chris Mayhew
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — Hundreds of Special Olympics softball players, some in full uniform, almost all wearing smiles, took to the fields Friday at the River Shores Sports Complex.

        Thirty-nine teams from throughout the state — including five from Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties — will compete through Sunday, vying for ribbons and medals and having a lot of fun.

[photo] Shortstop Paul Templeton (right), playing for the Campbell County Wildcats, chases a ground ball Friday as third baseman Ronnie Todd backs him up.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It's the first time we're hosting an event of this magnitude,” Northern Kentucky Special Olympics program director Mark Staggs said.

        Hundreds of Northern Kentucky volunteers — including ballplayers from Northern Kentucky University and Boone County High School softball teams — made it possible, Mr. Staggs said. All he had to mention was the need for them to ump or announce the games.

        “They stepped up,” he said. “Whole families are volunteering.”

        The teams are divided into skill levels; the most advanced is a 4A team. Each team gets to play at least two games in the tournament.

        Tommy Ackerson, 11, from Dayton, Ky., in his first year as a member of the 2A Wildcats, said he has been trying to hit a home run in practices, though he hasn't yet.

        “I like batting and sliding on the bases,” he said.

        For many, it is a rare chance to compete and play, and to have fun without any fear of being hurt, Mr. Staggs said.

        “What you see here is the true meaning of the sport, for no more reason than to have fun and sportsmanship,” Mr. Staggs said.

        Andy Williams, 17, a resident of Dayton, Ky., and a shortstop for the Campbell County 4A Wildcats, said he likes to play softball with his teammates and to have fun.

        “I play for the coaches; they've been there for us,” he said.

        One of the coaches is his brother, assistant coach J.D. Williams, who is 19. J.D. said he helps with all of the practice sessions, and that it is important for him to see the members of the team go out and have fun.

        “It gives them a chance to do what they want to do,” he said. “They get to experience what softball is firsthand.”

        Michael Messer, 21, from Covington has been playing Special Olympics softball for four years and pitches for the Campbell County 2A Wildcats. He said he likes to help the other players in practice, giving tips on how to play the game, making sure they know what base to throw to.

        Tim Wagner, coach of both Wildcat teams, said the competition is impor tant because there are not enough teams in Northern Kentucky on the same levels to play regular games.

        He said he has had both his teams practicing twice a week since May. Last year, this year's 4A team — which was a 3A team at the time — won the gold medal at a state softball competion.

        One of the 34 teams from outside Northern Kentucky competing was from Stewart Home School in Frankfort. Coach Karen Black, a Florence native, said her players enjoy tournaments, and though they like to hit the ball and run, most of them don't really like to be out in the field.

        “I had to come; they were really looking forward to it,” she said.

        The softball competition will continue today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with championship games beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday.

        Special Olympics encourages people with mental disabilities 8 or older to participate in sports and other physical activities.

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