Athletes prove they’re special

Butler Elementary was host to the Special Olympics Thursday.

“We had our North Central Area basketball skills event, here at Butler school,” Elizabeth Rusher, area coordinator, said. “We had 140 athletes. We had a few scratches. And we had 20 different delegations that came today.”

The school’s bleachers were full, with hundreds of spectators and supporters in attendance for the tournament.

There were many tests of the athletes’ basketball skills throughout the day.

“We had four different events,” Rusher said. “They did a target pass, a 10-meter dribble, a spot shot, and then we had a developmental dribble.”

For the athletes, the day is a competitive one.

“They all want the blue ribbon, because that’s first place. And then they’ll go on to Iowa City next month and participate at the state event there,” Rusher said. “They will go to the university there and they will hold the same competition, it will just be much bigger than what ours is.”

All the athletes were rewarded for their efforts Thursday.

“We ribbon from first place down to eighth place,” she said. “Nobody walks away without a ribbon of some sort.”

The athletes compete for greater prizes, though, at the state level, Rusher said.

“At the state event, first, second and third all receive a medal,” she said. “And then they ribbon from fourth place down to eighth.”

For Rusher, the day was equally fun and exciting.

“There were a few hairy moments, but there always is,” she said. “To get started, we had a few little glitches, some paperwork that was out on the floor that we missed, so we had to pull those athletes to do again.”

She added, “Otherwise, everything worked out well and everything went great.”

Assisting in the day’s tournament were volunteers from the Fort Dodge community.

“We had wonderful volunteers,” Rusher said. “We had volunteers from Iowa Central (Community College), the coaching class. We had United All-Star cheerleaders here. And we had volunteers from the Kohl’s department store here today.”

The tournament was not the result of one person’s efforts alone.

“It takes a lot of people to help organize this, and then I have some wonderful Fort Dodge coaches who help out,” Rusher said. “We come in the day before to tape everything out, and to get ready for the event. In the morning, they assist getting things set up again.”

Rusher has been coordinating the area Special Olympics tournaments for 30 years.

“I have a co-director, Lee DeCicco. We do bowling, basketball and track and field,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”