Special Olympics team prepare for state games

“We know the kids strive every competition to see if they can go do the very best possible.”


TORRINGTON – It should be firmly noted the Goshen County Special Olympic team put on a memorable performance last spring, and this year is shaping up to be even better.

Just weeks ago on April 4, the basketball team consisting of Anneke Kramer, EJ Haas, Xavier Harkins and Amelia Winter each brought home medals from the Cheyenne games.

Coached by county educators Craig Schadwinkel and Sage Munoz, the team demonstrated skills in the events so exquisite that three gold medals along with a silver medal were brought home.

Although the team’s performance and incredible work ethic paid off in competition, according to Coach Schadwinkel it could’ve been even better had they had just a little more warmup time.

“We had only been able to have a couple of practices, and Sage and I both felt it was a limited amount of time with the kids,” Schadwinkel said. “Fortunately, all of them have been part of the program in the past and were able to carry their skills for this following year. We were a little late getting started, but when we got to the gym and warmed up the kids had to sit for almost an hour and a half before they got to compete. So, we really didn’t get to do a second warmup with them. They went out and executed their skills very well, but it was kind of tough to get warmed up, sit for an hour, and then go back out again.”

Although the team was unfortunately limited on time to practice for the Cheyenne games, they are currently preparing full force for the upcoming State Games in Gillette on May 2-3.

“Our practices now have been going really well,” Schadwinkel continued. “Sage and I try to work on all types of situations with the kids. We also do some drills where we put on a time limit. Two of the three skills they have to perform are under a certain time frame. So, we do various activities where we put them under a time limit so they can kind of get used to that. It’s actually nothing new to them. When they compete probably the biggest thing is for the kids to get back their shooting form so muscle memory and motor planning can go through naturally. They can just shoot and not think about whether they are up close or far away from the basket.”

It should be noted, however, the time the team was able to practice came at personal sacrifice for both Coach Schadwinkel and Munoz. Nevertheless, all the hard work and sacrifice paid off for the entire team in the end. Coach Schadwinkel further explained another county educator’s efforts to keep the high school gymnasium open a bit longer so the athletes could run drills.

“That was basically because of Sage’s and my teaching schedules,” Schadwinkel continued. “I had taken some time during the kid’s active P.E. time to work on their skills then. EJ and Anneke are both at the high school, so I went up a few times during the week and the principal had the gym open for the kids to play. I did this with them during my lunch hour, and they did that during their lunch hour. The Special Olympics wanted them to have eight hours of practice before the games in Cheyenne, and to have 12 hours of practice before we go to the State Games in Gillette. I explained everything to our state director and told them we weren’t able to start as normally as we had in the past. She said if we could work with them during P.E. time that would qualify, so that’s what we tried to do.”

With the state competition just a few short weeks away, the coaches and athletes are confident they will be fully prepared to not only bring home medals but possibly bring home four golds this time. As the entire team fully understands; hard work, focus, and dedication is going to be required for such an achievement.

“We know the kids strive every competition to see if they can go do the very best possible,” Schadwinkel said. “But we definitely would like to bring home gold medals because it shows their work has really paid off. When we go to state the kids will be put into division rounds comparable to both their practice scores and medal scores. In the past few years since Sage and I have done this, we usually have one of our male and female athletes in the top division for the gold medal. We are sure hoping we can do that again this time. Right now, we are just waiting to find out which days our teams will be assigned to compete.”

Going far and beyond the athletic aspect of the games, both Schadwinkel and Munoz want the kids to fully understand the foundation of such hard work, dedication, and sacrifice in order to achieve a goal. As Schadwinkel firmly believes in his coaching, if the kids can overcome obstacles in the games, they can overcome obstacles in life.

As the coach put it plainly, sometimes we have to show appreciation for those who are willing to go out of their way to help someone else succeed.

“We always hope the kids will learn some life lessons through practice or competition and will be able to transfer those skills into life as they get older. The Special Olympics is built around kids working as hard as they can while showing good sportsmanship. We focus on this in practice and in competition. During competition, we always ask them to go to the people working because they are usually volunteers. We’ve tried to grind our kids to open up and show appreciation back to them for the time they’ve given, and to thank them for being there to help.”

If there is one thing to be said about the Special Olympics, it is that all involved are indeed special and irreplaceable in their own way. Whether it be the athletes or coaches, it takes someone truly extraordinary to prepare and work hard for the games. 

And it takes someone sincerely special to understand what it takes to coach the athletes.

“They are still kids even though they may have a disability,” Schadwinkel finished. “We try to teach these kids just like any others we may have, so when our kids come to practice, they know how to work extremely hard. When they leave here, they know they had to work hard. We are always trying to instill in them if they work hard, a lot of things in life are possible. We have parents who also serve as volunteers to chaperone for our athletes when we travel, and our program would not be successful without their commitment. We have a very social group as part of our program, and Sage and I feel very blessed they are a part of it. Finally, I feel very blessed to have Sage with us as well.”