FEB 13 HOME STRETCH COLUMN — PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR
Several counties across Iowa have Special Olympics teams. Why not Jones County?
That question was asked by a group of organizers, who went to work and founded a team.
“I had several parents say, ‘We want programs to be brought to Jones County,’ ” said Katie Shaull, Jones County coordinator for ARC, which provides services to people with disabilities.
“Several of us were taking our children to Cedar Rapids to participate in Special Olympics,” said Sharon Grams of Monticello.
Shaull got the wheels turning, and the result is a Jones County Special Olympics 3-on-3 basketball team.
“I really wanted to see something for these people to do, to have ownership in, to be proud of,” said Shaull, the head coach. “I started with some of the contacts I had made in Jones County. I reached out to some people, and the word spread.”
It began with an informational meeting in October. Since then, a team has been formed, and has been practicing weekly at the Lawrence Community Center in Anamosa with the help of volunteer coaches, including Mike McDermott, Shannon Poe and Josh Brennaman.
The team includes Adam Heginger and Grams’ son Jeremiah, both of Monticello. It is gearing up for its first competition, the Special Olympics East Central Regional Tournament, to be held Feb. 16 at Cedar Rapids Washington High School.
If the Jones County team wins the tournament, it will qualify for state competition in Iowa City.
Basketball is only the beginning. Once the season is over, the team will begin practice for Special Olympics track and field. Other sports offered include bocce ball, tennis, swimming, racquetball, softball, flag football and golf.
It is a free program, so the team has scheduled fund-raisers to help defray costs. There are coin jars at local businesses, and there will be a bake and craft sale March 6 at Walmart in Anamosa.
The Lawrence Community Center provides space for the practices. Legacy Lanes in Monticello has offered the athletes a bowling day later this year.
“It’s a very welcoming community,” Shaull said. “And the Special Olympics program has been phenomenal. They’re always checking in with me and saying, ‘What do you need?’ ”
Sharon Grams has been a key organizer, putting together the team, scheduling practices and more. Patty Carey of Anamosa helps with fund-raising. Volunteers are always welcome to help with practices.
Meanwhile, the team is gearing up for the basketball competition. Watching the smiles on their faces as they scrimmage is a joy.
“They’re very excited,” Shaull said. “It’s really taken off. It’s turned into such a bigger thing than I even thought of months ago.
“Just seeing the (Special Olympics) logo on the uniforms will probably be my crying moment.”