County Special Olympics softball team plays in first tournament



With two outs and the bases loaded, the softball came rolling toward James Knight at shortstop.

He cleanly fielded the ball and darted to second base to record the final out of the game, giving the Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County softball team a win in its opening game.

“I had that ball,” Knight said to his teammates as they walked off of the field Saturday morning with a 5-2 win against the Cass County Wildcats.

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That afternoon in the tournament in Greenwood, he played the same position when the team defeated the Cass County Cubs 5-2.

While that win was sweet, his day became even better when he was presented a sportsmanship award.

“It means a lot — good sportsmanship and showing everybody else the same thing,” he said.

In that moment, he not only was proud of himself for earning the honor, but he was happy to see the team work together in its first tournament.

“They all did good,” he said. “Thomas (Emly), he’s a good pitcher. He was throwing the heat. Everybody did good out there and just getting them to play.”

While the local Special Olympics group has offered a unified fitness club since April 5, softball is the first sport offered just for Special Olympics athletes since a county management team was formed earlier this year to help revive the organization in Jackson County.

Special Olympics Indiana is a not-for-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and up.

Before the tournament, the softball team had five practices throughout the summer at Gaiser Park in Seymour. With the heat, though, several have had to be canceled.

“They actually, I think, did better today than they have been in practice,” coach Jim Shepherd said. “They were excited about playing. Practice had been really hot a couple of days. Today was a much better day. Playing in a game is different than practice. Playing somebody else, they did really well.”

The opening game started off strong with Emly and Josh Beals hitting to deep center field for inside-the-park home runs. They were greeted with high-fives from their teammates as they arrived back in the dugout.

Cass County tied the game at 2 in the top of the second inning, but Travis Ward put Jackson County in front for good with his own inside-the-park home run.

“Never in my life have I hit it that hard. I’m going to do that again,” he said when he got back in the dugout. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

On the ensuing at-bat, Emly went around the bases for the second time of the game for a 4-2 lead.

“They can’t stop me, boys,” he said to his teammates.

Beals made it 5-2 with another inside-the-park homer.

“Good, hard hit,” assistant coach Melinda Shepherd said to Beals from first base.

Cass County made it interesting in the top of the fourth inning with the bases loaded, but Knight got the game-winning out at second base.

Coach Shepherd was happy with the defense then and throughout both games, especially since softball is new to most of the players.

“I think the concentration level, they were paying attention and ready to field,” he said. “They weren’t afraid of the ball. When the ball came to them, they stuck right in there and kept it in front of them and did a lot of good things like that.”

After the opener, Alysha Sandlin was presented the sportmanship award for the Jackson County team. She was the catcher in both games.

“My mom told me to go get the ball, and I did, and I threw it to Thomas,” she said. “I liked being the catcher. That’s the only position I want to be.”

Sandlin said she liked seeing teamwork on the field, and she was proud to be recognized for sportsmanship because being a good sport is important to her.

“Because you’ve got a good attitude,” she said.

Emly pitched both games and helped the team capture a pair of wins.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “Everybody did a very good job participating in Special Olympics. They came out here and we did our best, and I thank God for good weather.”

It was his first time playing softball.

“Oh, I loved it. I love pitching softball,” he said, smiling. “It felt pretty good.”

Coach Shepherd said he hopes to have the team play a few more games before participating in sectional Aug. 18. Then the EKS Games are Sept. 22.

Shepherd said he’s glad to be back on the field because he hasn’t coached Special Olympics softball since the 1980s.

“It’s fun because I get to see them in a different situation because when you’re working with people just doing work and that kind of thing, it’s better to see them in a more fun atmosphere,” he said. “They had great attitudes, fantastic attitudes. It was really good. They just did fantastic. I’m very proud of them.”

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