By LEAH TATE
About 200 athletes, coaches and volunteers were recognized during the annual Clark County Special Olympics Sports Banquet at Sacred Heart Catholic Church Saturday evening. The award ceremony not only honors Special Olympics participants, but it also provides a night for friends and families to share laughs, hugs and memories.
Four Spirit of Special Olympics awards were also given out for outstanding participation in the program. Becky Warren, 49, was nominated for the Spirit of Special Olympics Award Athlete.
Warren began Special Olympics when she was 16 years old and still participates year round. She currently plays in unified — mix of non-special and Special Olympics athletes — and singles out golf, unified bowling, 3-on-3 basketball, volleyball and corn toss. She also had previously been involved in track and field.
Steve Binggeli, Clark County Special Olympics coordinator who nominated Warren for the award, said one of Warren’s career highlights was being able to attend the World Games in Minnesota in 1991. He said she represented Team USA in track and field where she won two silver medals and earned a fourth place ribbon.
“Becky proudly displays her uniform jersey and medals, along with the ribbon, in a framed shadow box hanging on the wall in her bedroom,” Bingelli said.
Warren works at Rauch Industries in New Albany and said what she loves most about the Special Olympics program is just being around others.
“I like competing and being around the other athletes,” Warren said. “It’s good to see new people play too.”
After receiving the award, Warren went around the room and proudly showed off her plaque to fellow friends, but not forgetting to stop by her mother who was helping serve desserts at the food table for a big hug. Warren’s mother, Sherry Dumstorf, believes winning this award is a highlight in her daughter’s life.
“This is such a wonderful program for people with special needs,” Dumstorf said. “Everyone is seen as one and not looked upon differently; they are accepted for who they are.”
Spirit of Special Olympics Awards were also given to a family, coach and a volunteer. Bob, Linda and Nathan Snyder were awarded the family of the year award for being actively involved in the program for more than 20 years. Bob has volunteered as coach for various sports offered through the program and Linda has been a major supporter by offering rides to athletes, chaperoning and fundraising efforts. Their son Nathan participates in basketball, volleyball, track and field, golf, bowling and flag football. Nathan also works at New Hope Services workshop in Jeffersonville.
Coach Danny Bline was nominated for the Spirit of Special Olympics Award for helping with the Clark County Aquatics program for more than eight years.
Binggeli said Bline is popular with the athletes.
“Danny has a great rapport with the athletes and is always cutting up with them and having fun,” Binggeli said.
Bernie Begin was chosen to receive the Spirit of Special Olympics Award for volunteer.
Binggeli said Begin has been involved with the Special Olympics program for many years. He and his wife Beverly became involved with the program when their son, Jeff, was 8 years old, the minimal age requirement for the Special Olympics program. Jeff is now 44 years old and works at Rauch Industries full time.
Begin said they were active in the Michigan and Mississippi programs before participating in the Clark County program.
Binggeli said Begin is one of the most hard-working volunteers with coaching sports and being their handyman often behind the scenes.
“When I need something done, I know I can always count on Bernie to be there and do any job that needs to be handled,” Binggeli said.
Begin, quiet and humbled by the nomination, said being involved with the Special Olympics program has been the best time.
“This program is like a big family, athletes rely on us to be there for them and there is so much team spirit shared among participants,” he said. “It’s a great outlet for participants to learn social skills and just to run off steam.”
Special Olympic athletes’ parents are the lifeline of the program serving as volunteer staff and coaches and facilitating fundraisers. Steve Binggeli and his wife, Area 2 Director Bobbie Binggeli, also became involved when their son was at the eligible age of 8. Their son Steven is now 32 and competes in almost every sport offered. Bobbie said Steven has competed and moved on to the area, state and national championships with his determination to win and drive for accomplishment. His next feat will be competing in the USA National Games in golf held in New Jersey on June 14, 2014. Bobbie also said that the Special Olympics program is more than just winning; it provides for a feeling of inclusion and family.
“We’re an extended family where we can relate to each other and provide as a resource to one another,” Bobbie said. “We’re living similar experiences with each other.”
Steven, although limited to expressing language, said what he enjoys most about the Special Olympics program is having “friends.”
Currently, there are about 10 events offered year round in the Clark County Special Olympics program and about 25 in the Area 2 division, which includes surrounding counties. Additional sports and variations of the sport are offered depending on the athlete’s cognitive and physical functioning level allowing for athlete to play and compete. A county championship has been added this year, prior to moving onto the area, state and national championships. More information about the Special Olympics program can be found at soindiana.org.