DARKE COUNTY – Cindy Rose, volunteer coordinator for Darke County Special Olympics, described it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for three Darke County athletes. Nick Meade, Devin Billenstein and Derrick Hemmelgarn were given an opportunity to represent Ohio at the Special Olympics 2014 U.S.A. Games in New Jersey.
The three softball players joined 12 other teammates from around the state to earn the gold medal for Team Ohio by defeating Team New Jersey in the championship game. According to Rose, Team Ohio played three pool games to determine their division. They performed well enough to be placed in the top division.
Although they were there to play softball, Meade, Billenstein and Hemmelgarn took more than a gold medal away from the games. The trio was able to develop friendships with other players from Ohio, and create memories with their friends and family.
Rose attended the previous national games in Nebraska four years ago, but admitted there was much more for the athletes at this year’s games. From the opening ceremonies at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ complete with fireworks and the traditional torch ceremony to the closing ceremonies, the athletes were treated like celebrities during the week-long event by thousands of volunteers. All of Darke County’s athletes were given an opportunity to take a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty or enjoy activities in the exclusive Special Olympics Town. The town was not open to the public and all rides and activities were geared specifically to the athletes.
Although thrilled to send three athletes to the U.S.A. games to play softball, Rose admits she would like to send athletes in other sports to the games. In addition to softball, athletes competed in aquatics, athletics, basketball, Bocce, bowling, cycling, golf, gymnastics, power lifting, soccer, tennis and volleyball. Some of the athletes attending the games competed in one of three exhibition sports – baseball, flag football and triathlon.
While many recognize Special Olympics for the track and field games held annually in May at Harmon Field in Greenville, Rose pointed out there is much more to the Darke County Special Olympics program. The county has had championship teams in softball and basketball and has participants in aquatics and equine events. She would also like to reenergize the bowling teams in Darke County. The adult league has sent competitors to the state competition and she is hoping to start a youth league soon.
Rose would also like to expand the number of unified sports in the county. A unified sport is when a Special Olympics athlete is teamed up with a non-Special Olympics athlete. Darke County currently has a unified golf team, but Rose would eventually like to add a unified softball team.
Darke County Special Olympics has been fortunate since its very inception to have a community stand behind the program and its athletes. Donors and volunteers have made it an exceptional program. When the three athletes were chosen to go the U.S.A. Games she was quickly able to raise most of the fees needed to send the participants. Without the donations the athletes would not have been able to participate. Only a small portion of the fees came from the Darke County Special Olympics budget.
Shown is the contingent of players, family and supporters from Darke County.