Chris Wood expects the Blue Jays to win its softball division at this weekend’s Special Olympics 2008 Summer Sport Classic, otherwise known as the state tournament, in Everett.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “I think we will, but I’m not sure.”
Wood, 59, and of downtown Renton, has played softball for a Renton Special Olympics team for so long, he has lost count of the years.
Probably about 15 years, says Sean Claggett, head of Renton’s Specialized Recreation Program.
Same for his teammate, James Woolett, 37, also of Renton.
“I just like playing softball,” Woolett says. “And being with my friends.”
Woolett, who has Down syndrome, plays catcher and left field for the Renton Recreation Blue Jays. Wood plays “pitcher, backstop, outfield, any position.”
“I love it,” he says. “I like pitching — trying to get those guys out.”
Three of Renton’s six Special Olympics softball teams will be trying to “get those guys out” at this weekend’s state tournament. The two-day contest is double elimination, so if the teams win Saturday, they continue Sunday.
The tournament should be a good contest for all three teams, says Colin Edwards, one of nine coaches for Renton’s Special Olympics softball. Renton’s teams go against first-place finishers from the state’s four regions: King County, Northwest, Southwest and East.
Edwards’ team didn’t make it to state, so he is accompanying the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are a Masters 4 team, which means team members are 22 and older and have moderate mental disabilities and athletic skills. For softball, the masters division goes from 1, which is low disability and high athletic skills, to 6, which is high disability and low athletic skills. Edwards coaches the Masters 5 team.
Joining the Blue Jays in this weekend’s competition are the Renton Recreation Rattlesnakes, in the Seniors division, and the Renton Recreation Sluggers, the Masters Unified team. The Seniors are usually players ages 16-21, but Renton’s team this year is a combination of juniors and seniors, ages 8-21. Masters Unified is made up of players with and without mental disabilities. About 15 people are on each Renton Special Olympics softball team.
“They should have a good time,” Edwards says of this weekend’s contest.
The Masters Unified team has been state champ the last couple years, and Masters 4 won the title a couple years back. It has also been a couple years since that team won the regional Special Olympics, which is the state qualifier. This year’s regional was Aug. 9.
Renton’s Special Olympics softball teams play to win. But they also play to have fun and spend time with friends.
“Definitely, they want to win; that’s why they sign up and compete,” Claggett says. “But in the end, the relationships they make and how they treat each other and what they learn from the game they realize is more important.”
The 75-some athletes in Renton’s Special Olympics program spend a lot of time together, both on and off the fields and courts. Edwards estimates that about 85 percent of participants are year-round athletes. They play softball in the summer, bowling in the fall, basketball in the winter, and soccer, cycling or track and field in the spring. Golf is also starting this fall.
In addition to softball, Chris Wood cycles and bowls. He also played basketball for a while. His favorite?
“All of the above.”
James Woolett is more decisive about his preferences.
“Bowling is my favorite,” he says.
He also cycles and plays basketball, as well as softball.
Both Wood and Woolett also regularly attend Club Thursday, a social program for those in the Specialized Recreation Program, every Thursday at Renton Senior Activity Center. Monthly dances, karaoke nights, and art classes are also well-attended.
Renton’s Specialized Recreation Program has been going 25 years, and some participants have been involved in the program that long. Ages range from 8 to 60-something. Once signed up, people stay in the program, Claggett says.
“They make some friends and have a great time,” he says.
Making friends and having fun is one of the goals of the sports programs, Claggett says. The other goals are for participants to get out and exercise and learn about sports.
Some players learn a lot about their sports. Players like James Woolett, who Edwards says frequents batting cages and brings his own bat, mitt and helmet to practice and games.
“A lot of people on that team will spend a lot of time practicing their game,” Edwards says of the Blue Jays.
And its not just the Blue Jays who show their dedication to the game during the twice-weekly practices at Renton High and the Highlands Neighborhood Center.
“They typically arrive half an hour early, and we have to fight with them to get off the field and go home,” Edwards says.
For more information about Renton’s Special Olympics and Specialized Recreation Program, visit http://rentonwa.gov/living/default.aspx?id=430 or call 425-430-6748.