Special Athletes cap their special season

They’re like shaken soda bottles — bouncy and fun and filled with a joy and laughter that flows freely.

As I watch, their grins and giggles spill out upon the soccer field in an effervescence that inspires smiles from anyone near.

Full of mirth, they tease and cajole their coaches, giving reason why Wanda Smith, Cheryl Blowers, Kathy Zimmer and Carrie Ries take such delight in working with these special young women.

With their help, I understand why the answer to my prayer for a special column for this week was, “Track down the South Kitsap Lady Wolves Special Olympics Team.”

This is an important story and these are special people.

They don’t make me wait for an answer to why they love Special Olympics or how much winning a gold medal at the regional competition last month and a bronze at state means to them. It’s apparent in their eyes and the bounce in their step.

Nonetheless, they’re eager to share their reasons for loving Special Olympics.

“It was the best,” exclaimed 21-year-old Shaneey Skelton, describing the trip to the state tournament in Wenatchee. “We had so much fun.”

Fun, lots of learning and cute boys, according to the vivacious 33-year-old Dawn Ries. “I enjoy playing basketball. And I enjoy Special Olympics because it lets me play. Not only do I learn a lot of things from Wanda, but I get to meet new people all the time — even cute boys.”

“They did so well at state for going there for the first time,” Wanda said, describing the team she has coached for three years. “They were excited, but they showed a lot of great sportsmanship and teamwork.”

It was also hard work. They played five straight games at the regional playoffs in Silverdale on Feb. 15, winning in the last seconds of the game when Dawn was fouled and placed the foul shot in the basket.

“I had been hit in the eye and almost couldn’t see,” she explained.

Nonetheless, she catapulted the team to gold over the 60 or so other teams playing that day. The win left the team in tears. Tears flowed from the parents and coaches, as well, especially Wanda, who was celebrating her 34th wedding anniversary with her husband and Special Olympics co-coordinator, Mike.

“I told them that the best present they could get us would be a win,” she said. “It was such a surprise that everyone cried. We never thought we’d get to state, but they pulled it off.”

Taking the team that included Dawn, Shaneey, Gina Boyle, new mom Michelle Martin, Adela Caretti, Stacy Yarborough, Rebecca Jensen, Terrisha Jones and LeeAnn Cooper, across the snow-covered passes to the state tournament in Wenatchee was an adventure unto itself.

First the fun-loving, 23-year-old Gina, who was rescued as a 9-year old-child from an orphanage in Romania, searched the snow for signs of polar bears.

Finding none, but taking a fair amount of ribbing for the effort, she gave back an equal share, teasing her coaches and earning the nickname, “Hyper.”

And then there was, “the little sweetheart,” Terrisha Jones, shocking the team and making her dad proud when she fouled out a player on the other team.

“Normally,” Wanda said, “we don’t cheer when a player fouls, but Terrisha’s father was just so proud to see his daughter on the court so strong and confident.”

Making her father proud, as well, through stellar defense was Rebecca Jones, daughter of Port Orchard police officer, Jerry Jones.

His support of his daughter takes on special meaning through fundraisers he organizes for Special Olympics with the Port Orchard Police Department. They include a “Tip a Cop,” event held at Amy’s on the Bay each year.

The Smiths wish they could offer more sports and more events, but are always in need of support.

“We could really use more coaches, especially male coaches,” they stressed. “We desperately need chaperones for the men’s teams when they travel.” More coaches, especially for a well-loved sport like gymnastics, would mean a chance for more athletes to play.

Fortunately, the organization has one angel sponsor they cherish – Hi Joy Bowl. “Their management and staff are outstanding,” Mike said.

“They are fabulous,” Kathy added. “They help host a Halloween party there where they give out personalized bowling pins. They even remember our athletes when they come in on their own to play. They offer them discounts and really take care of them. We are so grateful.”

“They are really special to us down there. They even donate used bowling balls to our athletes,” said Wanda.

Still and all there is only one Hi Joy Bowl and the program could use more. They need more athletes, more family involvement and more community support.

Carrie Ries, Dawn’s mother, explained, “I have coached regular sports and I get more satisfaction out of coaching Special Olympics’ athletes. I can see their progress in so many ways, especially in self-confidence, self-control and good sportsmanship.”

“This is very rewarding,” echoes Mike. “It’s the best.”

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.