Sports gives players instant recognition and communities reasons to celebrate.
Whether it was 13-year old pitcher Mo'ne Davis’ shutout in the Little League World Series, or a second-string forward hitting a game-winning shot in a district title game, fans can’t get enough of the quick-hitting memories.
It’s not always star-quality moments that grab attention or headlines. Sometimes, inspiration and joy in trying to emulate Lebron James, Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning create powerful emotions.
In Ste. Genevieve, residents who would never be on traditional teams can feel the adrenaline rush that comes from sports.
For those with developmental and physical disabilities, Challenger Sports and Special Games offer more than jump shots, outfield to home plate relay throws or a first-place medal.
It’s a chance to socialize, have fun, and to try-without thinking about winning or losing.
Like their able-bodied counterparts, these efforts also bring the community together.
Local volunteers gave Challenger Baseball players a state-of-the-art, professional quality, accessible field. Field turf allows wheelchair-using players and others who have difficulty running a chance to circle the bases.
The field, which cost more than $600,000 to build, will be formally dedicated this fall. Donations and in-kind labor projects from Ste. Genevieve County residents helped defray over half of the cost. Construction began this past spring.
And it will get plenty of use. The Challenger Baseball program had 51 special-needs players of all ages on teams this year.
The Challenger Basketball program draws almost as many participants at the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center.
Kyla Stelling, Ste. Genevieve County Board for the Developmentally Disabled (SGCBDD) support coordinator, said everyone plays in Challenger games.
“We don’t keep score, we want everyone to learn skills and have fun. In basketball, players work on shooting and dribbling; baseball players work on batting, catching, and throwing. And everyone learns the importance of team building,” she said.
While Challenger Sports have been around for a few years, another sports program has deeper local roots. The Ste. Genevieve Special Games have been held for over 30 years, mainly at Ste. Genevieve High School’s football field.
Generally held in late spring, the Special Games feature events similar to those offered in track or other sports skill contests. Participants take part in softball, Frisbee, and football toss events; softball hitting, soccer kicking (for distance) and basketball shootouts.
“What we put on is not the same as Special Olympics. In fact, we specifically call our event Special Games to avoid confusion,” longtime Ste. Genevieve Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), and SGCBDD Board member Mary Huck said.
Huck said around 50 to 60 special needs individuals take part in Special Games every year.
“We get quite a bit of help from the community,” she added. “The Ste. Genevieve Jaycees and volunteers help sponsor the day and the VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary prepares and serves lunch for everyone.”
Those who take part in Ste. Genevieve Special Games also receive first, second and third place event ribbons, a medal, and an event tee-shirt, Huck said.
Ste. Genevieve Jaycees member Christy Wehner said he has been involved in Special Games for the past 15 years.
“We really love being involved with this,” he said. “The number of event volunteers have grown, too. We’re now seeing Ste. Genevieve kids who are pursuing special education degrees come back home and help out with Special Games.”
As in Challenger Sports, Special Games also focuses on fun and sportsmanship.
“Special Games is truly local. It’s not as big as Special Olympics. In Special Games everyone gets out and socializes. They don’t care how they finish in the events, as long as they have fun, and get a ribbon and medal,” Wehner said.