Cheers echoed off the walls of Bearcat Arena on Jan. 12 as teams competed on every court available. The athletes proudly sported their uniforms as coaches watched from the sidelines. The players and their fans displayed competitiveness but were still all smiles.
The team on the courts, though, was not the men or women’s Bearcats. They were the Special Olympic basketball teams. People of every age and ability had a place from full court games to individual team skills and wheelchair activities. Family members and friends were there to support their athletes.
One athlete Dan Schieber sat with the rest of the Bearcats and waited for his turn to play.
Schieber and his family have been a part of Special Olympics Missouri since he was young. When he was six years old his teacher took him to his first event. More than thirty years later the Schiebers can be found participating or volunteering at any Special Olympic event being held in the Northwest area.
“My favorite sports are bowling, swimming, golf, and basketball,” Schieber said. “I love them all.”
Schieber also competes in softball, track and floor hockey.
“He’s a very good bowler,” Schieber’s mother Irmalee said. “He averages a 154 but once bowled a 214.”
According to the Special Olympics Missouri website, Schieber has over 200 awards and medals. In 2010 he was inducted into the Special Olympics Missouri Hall of Fame. He also competed in aquatics at the Special Olympics National Games along with 3,000 athletes from all 50 states. Those who know him described him as encouraging and known for putting forth total effort into doing anything to help his teams, other athletes or the Special Olympics in general.
Despite his accomplishments, Schieber is humble and friendly. He can be counted on for a hug and a huge smile at any time. Outside of Special Olympic events, Schieber works at NoCoMo Industries, Inc., a Missouri Sheltered Workshop where he helps provide employment for individuals with disabilities.
The Special Olympics Missouri has a special place in the hearts of many individuals. The purpose of the program is providing year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“We have all types of divisions,” said associate area director for Special Olympics Missouri Katie Hrenchir. “It’s great because a parent can never say we don’t have anything for their athlete.”
Thirty-seven teams showed up from all over northwestern Missouri to not only play in the tournament but to feel the sense of community that comes with the Special Olympics games.
“Northwest is amazing to work with,” Hrenchir said. “The town of Maryville is so welcoming. A lot of the businesses welcomed our athletes and we really couldn’t have a better place to host the tournament. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Although Hrenchir has been in her position for nearly five years, her experience goes farther back.
“My brother’s an athlete,” she said. “I’ve been volunteering since I was nine and I got this job at 23. I’ve been doing it for five years and I’m just now getting the hang of it.”
Hrenchir dedicates her entire year to organizing events for 21 sports for the Special Olympics.
Athletes and family members aren’t the only people involved in these events year-round. One hundred and fifty volunteers signed up for the tournament, but Hrenchir expected between two and three hundred. For one volunteer, the experience is one he cherishes.
“Personally, I love it,” junior Dylan Sendgraff said.” I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve give my left arm for these athletes.”
Sendgraff participated as a unified partner in last year’s tournament. A unified partner is someone who does not have disabilities and plays on the team with the athletes. This year, Sendgraff returned as a coach.
Sendgraff strongly encouraged anyone interested, and even those not interested, to give volunteering a try.
“I feel that being involved is great for the community,” he said. “Everyone should do it. Everyone should come out at least one time. Just volunteer and you’ll know you’ll want to keep doing it.”
Since 2010 Northwest has also hosted the district Special Olympics basketball tournament and track and field games. Sendgraff described the athletes’ excitement about returning to Northwest.
“They would not stop talking about it for the last year,” Sendgraff said. “They just kept saying ‘we have the tournament back at Maryville.’ When people come out to see them, their faces are great. They just see, wow, the community really cares about us.”
Sendgraff encourages members of the community to participate but especially wants students and teachers to get involved.
“We need to get the University students volunteering,” he said. “We need coaches. We need unified partners, volunteers. It doesn’t matter if you want to do it once, just once is all it takes.”