At Southern Illinois Special Olympics Spring Games, friendship is more important than winning
Cody Williams of Community Integrated Living in Anna gets his
face painted Friday afternoon during Region K Special Olympics
Spring Games at SIUC.
John Henley of Marion throw the shot put Friday afternoon during
Region K Special Olympics Spring Games at Lew Hartzog Track and
Field Complex at SIUC.
CARBONDALE — Austin Jones and John Henley are good friends and co-workers, but one thing will make them competitors — the shot put contest at Special Olympics.
So, they were indeed competitors Friday afternoon at the Region K Special Olympics Spring Games at Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
“We’ve probably been friends for 30 years,” Henley said.
John seemed a little worried that he would be up against his friend, Austin. He likes to help Austin celebrate his successes. He also likes to win gold medals.
Austin Jones (left) and John Henley who are friends and
competitors are pictured after the medal ceremony for shot put at
Region K Special Olympics Spring Games Friday at
That’s the thing about the athletes of Special Olympics — they like to win almost as much as they like to see their friends win. They are there to compete at their personal best and have a good time while doing it. Winning is extra.
Before the competition, Austin, John and other athletes went over the process for shot put. During competition, they clapped for each athlete’s throw.
In most competitions, there can only be one winner, but this is Special Olympics. Gold medals were awarded in seven divisions.
In M4 division of shot put, John Henley took home the gold medal. Austin received a silver. They congratulated each other and posed for a picture. Austin took off for his next event, and John headed to get lunch, then to cheer on his teammates on the Lightning Bolts.
Austin Jones competes in shot put at the Region K Special
Olympics Spring Games Friday afternoon at Lew Hartzog Track and
Field Complex at SIU.
Other gold medal winners in shot put were J.C. Noble (M1), Austin Sweitzer (M2), Connor Craig (M3), Jereth Ennis (M5) and Johnnie Taylor (M6).
Shane Bennett, assistant director of Special Olympics Region K, said more than 550 athletes were expected to compete during the day. Athletes come from as far as Chester and the western border of Illinois to east of Marion and from Benton south to Cairo.
“Winners from today have the opportunity to move on to the Summer Games at Illinois State University,” Bennett said.
Athletes competed in a variety of track and field type of events, including events focused on running, throwing and jumping.
Marty Allega (left) of Centerstone's Special Olympics team,
receives his second place medal for 15 meter run from Trooper Tim
Baker of Illinois State Police District 22 during the Region K
Special Olympics Spring Games Friday at Lew Hartzog Track and Field
Complex at SIUC.
Cody Williams of Community Integrated Living in Anna took home a gold medal in the 15-meter dash.
“I tried to be a little slower, but it didn’t work,” he joked just after receiving his medal.
Deran Johnson of START did not seem to mind how fast Williams ran. Johnson finished just behind him in second place. Trooper Tim Baker of Illinois State Police District 22 placed the silver medal around Johnson’s neck, and Johnson did a little dance to celebrate.
Cody Williams shakes hands with Trooper Tim Baker of Illinois
State Police District 22 after winning a gold medal at Region K
Special Olympics Spring Games Friday at SIUC.
The athletes bring coaches, chaperones and family to cheer them on.
Proud grandpa Milton McDaniel was cheering on granddaughter Sheridan Coleman and her teammates.
“This is a good day,” McDaniel said.
Rich Henley of Marion is coach of the Lightning Bolts and John Henley’s dad.
“They are doing wonderful just to be here,” Rich Henley said.
Lightning Bolts athletes train for their competition, but their coaches also train. Henley explained coaches for Special Olympics have to be trained, and Millikin University hosts a large training each year that he and his wife, Jane, attend.
“No matter how good you think you are, there is always more you can learn and pass on to your athletes,” Rich Henley said.
CARBONDALE — Eunice Kennedy Shriver is often credited for founding Special Olympics and the first games on Soldier Field on July 20, 1968, but she did not work alone. She enlisted the help of one Southern Illinois resident who was experienced in working with the intellectually disabled in the field of recreation, the late Dr. William H. Freeberg.
He added that once you are a coach, you cannot quit, joking that this was like the Mafia. Henley was serious, too.
“You cannot turn your back on these kids and walk away,” Rich Henley said.
For more information on Special Olympics Illinois, visit www.soill.org.