Jackson County represented at Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games


Once their division number was called, the athletes checked in at a tent, took a seat and anxiously waited to compete on the state’s biggest stage.

When it was their turn, they stepped onto the track or grassy area at the Gibson Track and Field Complex and gave it their all.

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Then they filed back to the tent and stepped up to an awards podium to receive their awards — either a gold, silver or bronze medal or a ribbon.

No matter what they earned, they were proud of it.

Jackson County had 10 athletes competing in the 2019 Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games at the Indiana State University complex Friday through Sunday.

Seven others were among the competitors in wheelchair and walking races and field events Saturday in a nearby indoor track and field facility, while nine men and women traveled to Collett Park for the horseshoes competition that day.

“Whether it was a high-five after a race or having a conversation while waiting in the staging area, I loved watching the athletes transform a little,” County Coordinator Crystal Ackeret said.

“They go in a little nervous, but they were so proud of themselves when they finished,” she said. “It didn’t matter if it was a ribbon or a gold medal. They were proud. Their smiles is what I will remember. They tried their best, and that is enough. We can all learn from that.”

Jackson County athletes earned 13 gold medals, 13 silver medals, 12 bronze medals and 13 ribbons on the weekend.

In the outdoor track and field events, Kayla Kriete, Haley Ackeret and Alysha Sandlin earned a medal in each of their three events.

Kriete placed first in the softball toss and standing long jump and second in the 50-meter dash in her division; Ackeret and Sandlin went 1-2 in the shot put; Sandlin won the softball toss and was third in the 50-meter dash; and Ackeret was third in the 100- and 400-meter dashes.

Other gold medalists in their divisions were Nevaeh Ackeret in the long jump and Adam Lee in the shot put. Nevaeh also earned a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash.

It was Lee’s second time competing in the Indiana Summer Games, as he participated with another county program several years ago.

“I was proud of myself for throwing it far,” he said of winning his division in the shot put. “I’m proud of myself for working hard.”

Aside from competing, Lee said he had fun dancing at Olympic Town on Saturday night and reconnecting with Special Olympics athletes he knew.

“I was excited to spend time with friends,” he said. “It gives them chances to try something new.”

Teammate Montana Casto said his first experience at Summer Games was memorable. He received ribbons in the mini javelin, shot put and 100-meter dash.

“Coming over here to Terre Haute was very cool,” he said. “I had fun hanging out with friends, doing the challenges and just having fun and doing your best. I felt like I did a really good job and worked hard, and I’m proud of what I achieved.”

Also in outdoor track and field, Jeremiah Griffin earned bronze medals in the mini javelin and shot put; Josh Beals received silver in the shot put and bronze in the mini javelin; Cheroki Isgrigg got silver medals in the standing long jump and 50-meter dash; and Eric Jackson received ribbons in the mini javelin, shot put and 100-meter dash.

In indoor track and field, Ralph Monroe and Faith Osborne both were gold medalists in the 10-meter assisted wheelchair and target throw in their divisions. Christa Birge and Christina Wright both won their divisions in the target throw, while Wright was second in the assisted wheelchair and Birge was third in the assisted walk.

Charla Richards and Charlotte Greasham went 1-2 in their 10-meter assisted wheelchair race, and Lucinda Rutan was a silver medalist in the unassisted walk. Richards, Rutan and Greasham also received ribbons for the tennis ball throw.

Finally, in horseshoes, all nine Jackson County athletes placed in the top three of their division.

Finishing second were Brad Blakely in the 10-foot competition and Leroy Deal, Donald Bennethum, Scott Thompson and Roger Hanner in the 20-foot competition. Chuck Chandler and Shannon Blodgett were third in the 10-foot division, and Jeff Jones and Dennis England won bronze in the 20-foot division.

Blodgett said she was proud to place third in her first time competing in horsehoes, and Bennethum said he liked squaring off against good competition.

“It helped me learn much better. I’m proud of my silver medal,” Bennethum said. “I had fun. I liked the Summer Games. I hope I get to compete in horseshoes next year.”

Summer Games is Special Olympics Indiana’s largest annual event, conducted each June on the campuses of ISU and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

At the 50th Indiana Summer Games, there was a record 2,868 athletes and unified partners from 66 delegations competing in a variety of Olympic-type sports, including bocce, bowling, cycling, horseshoes, powerlifting, swimming, track and field and volleyball. Plus, there were more than 1,500 volunteers, coaches, chaperones and spectators.

This was Jackson County’s first time participating since 2016.

Jim Shepherd, who coached the horseshoes team and helped with track and field, said his last time at Summer Games was 1989.

“What struck me was the number of athletes. When I went before, there were not as many sports, and the total athletes was much less,” he said. “Another significant change was the pageantry. It was significantly more than what I remember.”

The opening ceremonies Friday night at ISU’s Hulman Center featured the Parade of Athletes, a 50th anniversary program, live entertainment and the lighting of the Flame of Hope.

Throughout the weekend, attendees visited Olympic Town and Healthy Athletes for a variety of activities. Finish Line also distributed free shoes as an incentive for participation in Special Olympics Indiana’s unified fitness club program.

“I really enjoy being part of Special Olympics,” Shepherd said. “I enjoy seeing the athletes being social and enjoying themselves. It is nice to see them be able to enjoy unique experiences. I will remember the good time everyone had and the patience that all the athletes and coaches show in being part of such a massive event.”

Shepherd said nearly all of the Jackson County athletes outperformed what they had been doing.

“The competition seemed to bring out the best in them,” he said. “My favorite moments are when the athletes get their awards. For 90% of them, they relish in getting an award and being recognized, no matter if they got a ribbon or a medal. Some are competitive and are disappointed, but most are not.”

For the rest of the county management team, it was their first Summer Games experience.

“For me, it was uplifting and heartfelt,” Mary Carlson said. “One of my favorite moments is when the athletes would stand on the podium and receive their medals and just get so excited. They were so proud of themselves, and rightly so.”

Being a part of Summer Games made Carlson realize how much Special Olympics is needed in Jackson County.

“The athletes who had previously been to state and knew they were going back after an absence of several years, they were so excited,” she said. “I love these athletes like they are my own and am so proud of them.”

For Donald Griffin, Summer Games was twofold.

“I liked going to Summer Games because I got to see my son (Jeremiah Griffin) compete in events, then to see all the support from fellow athletes as the others competed and to see all the positive interactions from the people volunteering to make sure all the events went as smooth as possible,” he said.

No matter how they placed, Griffin said the athletes were happy to be at the Summer Games doing what they enjoy.

“The biggest thing that I am going to remember this weekend is the friendships that were made,” he said. “I got to know a lot of our athletes a lot better than I did before going. We all have a lot more respect for each other now since we know each other better. … It was a very positive experience.”

The weekend also was special for Crystal Ackeret with two daughters competing, another daughter and a niece volunteering and a sister on the county management team.

“I love that even though everyone wore a shirt that had their own county on it, we were all one big team. I loved seeing the athletes interact with other counties,” she said. “For me, being a part of Special Olympics means that I get to do something that is very important, something that is making a difference in others’ lives, and it isn’t just sports.”