Northern Gila County Special Olympics Director Becky Derwort will no longer be forced to pinch pennies and solicit donations for her teams to travel the state representing the Rim Country in games and meets.
The financial headaches that have long plagued her received a very unexpected remedy when the Tonto Apache Tribal Council voted last month to donate more than $23,000 to the Payson program.
"We didn't apply for it, so we didn't know it was coming," she said. "It's so very generous, we appreciate it greatly and it will be put to good use."
Derwort said the money will be used to pay for travel to out-of-town competitions and possibly to buy uniforms and equipment.
"My husband tells me I don't have to go to yard sales now to try and find things we can use in our program," Derwort said.
According to Tonto Apache tribal controller Jerry Holland, the donation was made as part of the gaming agreement the tribe has with the state.
The agreement mandates the tribe donate a portion of its casino profits to selected entities.
"Last year we donated it to the town," he said. "This year, a council member suggested Special Olympics would be a good organization to donate to."
Some of the money Payson Special Olympics received will be used to pay for an Oct. 8 and 9 trip to the Arizona State Fall Games in the Valley.
Currently about 15 Special Olympians are preparing for the aquatics competition to be held at the Surprise Recreation Campus in Surprise.
"(The athletes) are looking forward to it and they are training hard," Derwort said.
The Special Olympians practice twice a week at the indoor pool on the Tonto Apache reservation south of Payson.
Derwort wrapped up a midweek practice with mock competition, pitting swimmers with equal ability against one another in lap swims.
Derwort got in on the action accepting a challenge from local Special Olympian David Frohme to clash in a two-lap swim. After a close first lap, Frohme edged his coach at the finish line.
In addition to swimming, the local team competes in bowling, figure skating, speed skating, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, power lifting, basketball, gymnastics and track and field.
"Our new sport being added is bocce," Derwort said.
Anyone interested in volunteering or becoming an athlete can call Derwort at (928) 474-9142.