Wednesday, February 27, 2013
For John Dutton, his personal goal this year as part of the Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) Dragons bowling team is to surpass 200 pins in one game.
This is a lofty feat for many experienced bowlers. However, this accomplishment is within easy reach for the SOMO Dragons teammate of four-plus years. Dutton has already scored a 188 during league play at Zodiac Lanes in Camdenton, and he has reached more than 160 pins in multiple games competing with Special Olympics tournaments.
Joining in his first 2013 season practice Sunday afternoon at Zodiac Lanes with his fellow Dragons’ teammates, Dutton already showed his years of experience, continued practice and determination is paying off. He landed numerous frames filled with spares and a few strikes within the first practice game, and Dutton alongside many of his equally talented team members shows high hopes the SOMO Dragons will bring home gold medals from their upcoming state tournament at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus in May.
This love of the game and ambition to strive for excellence is not only one of the reasons hundreds participated in the Polar Plunge Saturday at Public Beach No. 2 in Osage Beach raising thousands of dollars for Special Olympics Missouri. It is also the vehicle driving SOMO Dragons head coach Trey Leigh’s continued leadership of these exceptional athletes.
“For most of the athletes, this is what they look forward to all year long,” Leigh said. “This is their big activity that they enjoy, they are dedicated to and live for. That is what has brought me back every year to coach these athletes.”
Approaching the lanes
The SOMO Dragons’ roster includes teammates from Camden County, both on its bowling and track teams. Leigh now heads up both of those athletic groups as head coach, with his assistant and wife, Alyssa. Yet, his involvement began when he was a freshman in high school.
“Some guys from the City of Osage Beach got involved in coaching with the teams. The program had been shut down for quite a while before they started it back up down here,” Leigh explained, noting he worked part-time for many years at the City of Osage Beach and now is a full-time employee with the city’s parks and recreations department. “In 2004, is when I came on board as an assistant coach with those men who were head coaches, Bob Chatham and Mike Viselli. Being an assistant coach was just an eye-opener to the whole experience of Special Olympics. Before that point, I didn’t know what Special Olympics was. However, as I learned it, I liked it and have kept doing it ever since.”
In 2008, Leigh took over the reigns as head coach for both the bowling and track teams. With bowling, Leigh was acclimated to the sport. He said his father participated in leagues at Zodiac Lanes since owner Don Barrett opened the business.
Leigh said the track team has primarily the same group of athletes competing in a variety of different events as they have since its early days as a fresh, new team. However, the bowling team has grown over the years and has seen more than 15 players participating this year.
Striving for a strike
In fact, 13 SOMO Dragons will be training for the next state event in May. Those bowlers include John Dutton, Jessica Dutton, Roger Mitchell, Reggie Miller, Tina Martin, Stanley Osterenga, Josh Hepner, Matt Moore, Ted Cain, Diane Pryor, Tyler Mathis, Mike McClanahan and Angela Landon.
Leigh said Special Olympics previously held four state events throughout the year for athletes, which allowed those competitors like in Camden County to compete in two different sporting tournaments. However, due to cutbacks with the Missouri organization, Leigh said they only have two state events.
“My athletes that qualify to go to state in both bowling and track can still compete in district events but choose which sport to compete in when it comes to state. They are all now held at the same time,” he said. “However, the good thing is Special Olympics Missouri added regional bowling events with districts and state, so they are able to have more of an opportunity to compete with the program and as a team. They haven’t allowed that for track yet, but it will get there. They are making it more of a competition along with being a fun event for the athletes.”
Just before Christmas, the SOMO Dragons bowling team competed in a state event, so now they will have a few practices over the next month with regular practices beginning about two and ½ months for the next state tournament, Leigh said.
“We will do a practice (Sunday) and have another one in about three weeks. It allows them to keep active in their sport and continue to learn, improve and have fun,” he added, noting the track team will start practice in March.
For seasoned SOMO Dragon bowlers like Stanley Osterenga, he is excited to go to the state tournament again this year. Having 12 gold medals under his belt over his four-year career being a Special Olympics athlete, he is also hoping to reach his personal goal of 140 pins in one game. This is an accomplishment he has done before, but hopes this year will mark its return.
“State tournaments are different experiences, but I like it. You get to spend the night in a new place and meet new people,” Osterenga said, being self-taught with the technical assistance of Leigh and his fellow teammates. “I have met a lot of friends and it is fantastic being on the team.”
Picking up the spare
Dutton, who began league play at Zodiac Lanes before his teammate and older sister Jessica, actually came to the SOMO Dragons after his sister had been competing for a few years. Despite some occasional sibling rivalry at the lanes for a better score, they work well together as a team and a large part of why many of these athletes enjoy this program.
“I was a football player in eighth grade. I played two-way ball as an offensive guard and defensive nose guard. I like team events,” Dutton said, noting he has 25-plus medals from bowling as a SOMO athlete including one bronze, one silver and 10 gold state medals.
Dutton also plays as part of two different leagues and bowls four out of seven days a week. Coach Leigh has taught Dutton some skills of the sport, and Dutton said now he has taught both his fellow SOMO athletes and his league partners and players some techniques, as well. For him, being a part of the SOMO Dragons has enhanced his love of being on a team.
“I have learned to be a team player and love being a part of this team,” he added. “I show them techniques and we all learn a lot from each other.”
As Leigh can attest with any sport, coach the SOMO Dragons truly comes down to allowing the athletes to learn the basics, develop their skills and have fun.
“When it comes to any sport, you just teach them the basics. You have to let them make their faults and correct it as you go,” he added. “You get athletes that come out and it isn’t the right fit for them. In Special Olympics, you have to be dedicated and you got to work. A lot of people get upset because they don’t win. You have to work and learn. You can’t come in your first time and automatically win; there are very few athletes that can do that.”
Even though the SOMO Dragons bowling and track teams have come back with mainly gold and silver medals from state tournaments, Leigh said what he and Alyssa have learned from the experience is about enjoying the proud moments shared as a team. In fact, Leigh received his associate’s degree in special needs in 2010 and hopes to eventually work in promotions or management for an organization with emphasis toward special needs. With Alyssa working toward her nursing degree, the couple continues to strive for excellence, as they encourage the SOMO Dragons to do. However, like their athletes they are encouraged to come back every year to simply be a part of the experience.
“Whether they win or lose, they are happy to be here. They may be upset, but they are willing to keep going and try it again,” he said. “No matter how good or bad they did at their tournament, they are happy they are even there. And that is why I truly enjoy coaching these teams for Special Olympics.”
For more information about Special Olympics, visit www.somo.org.