In June, Mrs. Marty Flowers, an Earth Science teacher at Gananda’s Ruben Cirillo High School, was granted the opportunity of a lifetime when she was selected to be a softball official for the Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games.
The USA Games were hosted by New Jersey from June 14-21, 2014. There were nearly 3,500 athletes competing in 16 Olympic-style team and individual sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches, 10,000 volunteers and 70,000 family, friends and spectators. The sports offered included: Aquatics, Athletics, Baseball, Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Cycling, Flag Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Powerlifting, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Triathlon and Volleyball.
Events were hosted at venues including Princeton University, Ryder College, College of New Jersey, and Mercer County Park. Players may have Downs Syndrome, or traumatic brain injuries - their conditions are not always obvious, and certainly, nothing holds them back from the job and joy of playing.
Marty who has been a teacher for 30 years at Gananda, has also played the game of Softball since she was 10 years old. “I have always played sports,” she explained. “I started with Macedon Recreation softball, and played sports through elementary, middle and high school at Pal-Mac. At Wells College she played Soccer, and when she graduated, she continued to play Softball on adult leagues until she was 47.
To be selected as an official for softball, Marty had to meet a number of rigorous qualifications. These included being a qualified official with the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), experience working a number of local and state level Special Olympic events, and recommendations from people she felt were “much more highly qualified than I!”
Her experience with Special Olympic sports stems from her association with Lee Prong, a Pastor at Williamson Presbyterian Church whose wife Demaris runs several group homes. He told me he needed help to work with kids playing in Special Olympic sports.
Marty has umpired since 1988 for Section V sports in Wayne County, first as a Slo-Pitch Softball umpire and then she transitioned to Fast Pitch.
Special Olympic softball has two different types of competition. The Traditional Softball teams are comprised completely of athletes with intellectual impairments. The second type of competition is Unified Softball, which has athletes and partners in a 1:1 ratio. In either version, competition between the teams is focused the love of the sport. Athletes, coaches, spectators and officials are all there to enjoy the games and to uplift the athletes in their endeavors. Cheers, high fives and hugs are the order of every day and every game.
“I was a little sacred of the prospect of umpiring for the National Special Olympics. I did not know what the level of play would be, how tough it would be. It turned out to be the time of my life. These athletes play for the pure JOY of the game, and feel the thrill of doing their best. The hugs and high fives are as big a reward as the certificates and medals are” Marty noted.
“I had the honor and joy of working the traditional softball tournament,” said Flowers.
The teams came from Southern California, Texas, Nebraska, Alabama, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Florida and New Jersey. Each player was required to have meaningful competition. They played the field, came to bat and ran the bases. “I saw diving catches in the outfield, head first slides into second, and even a double play or two! With all of these and more, came the appreciation of a job well done,” commented the grateful official.
“I do not think that I can count the number of times that an athlete, coach or spectator thanked my partners and me for coming to their tournament. It is not an exaggeration to say that the thanks is actually ours,” she explained. It is far too easy for me to become wrapped up in my life, worrying about things that are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. These athletes wake up every morning with more challenges in their lives than I. However, they meet those challenges head on and with a positive attitude. The joy and thankfulness that the Special Olympians show is an inspiration to me.”
“I would like to thank so many who made this experience possible for me: Gananda Central School District, for granting me the time to go; ASA who has given me the training as an umpire; my family for dealing with a week without mom; and the Special Olympics organization and athletes who change lives,” Flowers expressed with gratitude.
The oath and creed of Special Olympics is: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Special Olympics was the dream of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Her passion for those with intellectual disabilities came, at least in part, because of her sister Rosemary who had intellectual challenges. Janet Froetscher is the current Chief Executive Officer (CEO).