“We thought everything went really well and hope to return to Oregon in 2009,” Director Martin S. Allen said. “We had very many positive comments from the athletes and the coaches, families who know us and stopped by to say ‘Hi’ and everybody loved the facilities and the people up there in Oregon.”
Mayor Marge Brown exclaimed, “I don’t know how we can top what we did this year.”
There were 500 athletes competing in six divisions, and the event filled 120 hotel rooms, Mayor Brown said. The event was brought to Oregon by umpire Paul Rufus Drake III.
“They were excited about doing it and they had talked to us for a number of years if we would consider going up there, and we rotated around. For years we were in Mansfield, then we went over to Massillon for a few years, then to Troy, and we’ve rotated back and forth between Troy and Lucas County,” Allen explained.
“But they did such a great job up there in Oregon, and we talked about doing at least a couple years in a row,” the state director added.
Nearly 200 volunteers were behind the scenes wearing salmon-colored shirts, Drake said. Many were city employees.
“With the mayor, (city recreation director) Joe Wasserman and the parks and rec, and the Clay volleyball team — they all helped out,” said Drake, adding there were too many volunteers to mention them all.
Mayor Brown said, “They (Special Olympics) are a wonderful organization to work with. I want to give Paul Drake all the praise in the world. He’ll tell you I’ve been after him for years to bring the Special Olympics up here, and now we have it. He’s done an excellent job.
“Everything was just so super-smooth. We must have had 14 to 17 police and firemen volunteer their time. We all worked together. The weather was just fantastic.”
At the opening ceremonies when the state director was introduced, the mayor joked that she “was just responsible for the weather.” That’s half the battle right there, Drake admitted.
Drake and the mayor said one Oregon policeman, Bob Shelley, hesitated when asked to grill hamburgers. Once Shelley got started, he ended up grilling over 800 burgers.
“It actually started out as a joke,” Drake said. “I was teasing him one day telling him, ‘Hey Bob, I’m going to sign you up to be a cook.’ He was like, ‘Well, what do you mean a cook?” But I’ll tell you what, he did an awesome job.
“Another guy on the rec board (Dave Dayton) — he was the one who went and got all the food and all that. He choreographed 800 people to eat within two hours. I mean, it was amazing.”
Drake would not only like to see Oregon become the permanent home for the State Special Olympics Softball Tournament, he is researching what needs to be done to bring the national tournament here. The state tourney is held annually, whereas the next national tournament will be held next in 2010, Drake said.
Drake, who has been involved with the state softball tournament 15 years, was also selected as an umpire for last summer’s World Special Olympics in Beijing, China. Allen said Drake has been a big plus for the Special Olympics.
“He has helped us for many years,” Allen said.
Allen and Drake suggest that anyone who wants to participate with Special Olympics athletes can compete in unified divisions. This season, no teams from this area reached the semifinals in that division during the state softball tournament.
That division combines Special Olympics athletes with non-Special Olympics athletes, and it does not matter how many non-Special Olympics athletes are on a team, as long as the ratio is not too high.
“It doesn’t matter if a team plays all Special Olympics athletes in the unified division, as long as they are perfectly even.” Allen said. “You may have a unified team right in your backyard.”
Drake said one of the more exciting games was when a team scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to win a state championship.
“There were some good games that I had seen,” Drake said. “They had a great time.”
In the Scarlet Traditional Division, the Lucas (County) Sabercats reached the quarterfinals with a 22-10 victory over Richland, but lost in the next round to Erie 23-5. Erie went on to become state runner-ups.
In the Gray Traditional Division, Wood White lost to the eventual state champion, Franklin Flyers White, in the semifinal, 18-10.
In the Navy Traditional Division, Sandusky County and Wood County were both unable to reach the quarterfinals — Sandusky losing to Richland II 27-9, and Wood losing to Fulton 8-0 in the round of 16.
In the Gold Traditional Division, the Lucas Bats lost to eventual state runner-up Henry II in the quarterfinals, 15-14.