Payson Special Olympics is widely considered one of the finest in the state, thanks in part to help from several Rim Country benefactors including the Knights of Columbus.
Assistance from the Knights — which is affiliated with St. Phillip the Apostle Catholic Church — comes after a series of fund-raisers are held.
One such fund-raiser has Knights handing out Tootsie Rolls at various businesses around town.
In exchange for the candy, recipients make donations to the Knights, which in turn go to Special Olympics.
The proceeds from the most recent Tootsie Roll fund-raiser, about $1,800, was given to local SO coordinator Becky Derwort at a breakfast meeting held last week at Tiny’s Restaurant.
Grand Knight Bob Closs presented the check.
“We also received another good-sized donation from a Valley-area Knights of Columbus,” said Derwort. “This is money we really appreciate; it helps us do what we do.”
The Payson Knights of Columbus donation to Special Olympics is just one of many causes the local organization funds.
In early December 2010, the Knights hosted Trina Gunzel and her 7-year-old son Wyatt at a Christmas dinner and a visit from Santa Claus at Gerardo’s Firewood Cafe.
After dinner, Santa gave Wyatt his first-ever bicycle and also presented his mom with a $1,000 donation to help the Gunzel family with medical expenses associated with Wyatt’s rare Type 1 Diabetes condition.
Where’s it go?
Derwort, after receiving the Knights’ donation at the breakfast meeting, thanked the group for its “great support” of Special Olympics and went on to explain how the money would be used. The money is used to purchase much needed sports equipment, sometimes including uniforms, and to pay expenses for the athletes to travel to games and competitions.
Those costs can quickly mount up because Payson athletes are some of the finest in the state, annually earning invitations to prestigious regional, state and national contests, sometimes held in foreign countries.
The money the Knights recently donated could possibly help David Frohme and Roseanne Hendricks travel this summer to Athens, Greece to participate in the Special Olympics World Games.
The pair are candidates to receive berths because both medaled at the 2010 USA National Special Olympic Games held July 18 to July 23 in Lincoln, Neb.
In the spring of 2009 at Mesa Red Mountain High School, 16 Payson athletes turned out to compete in the Arizona State Individual Skills Basketball competition.
At the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho local speed skater Christine Sexton won a gold medal.
Also that year, the foursome of Heather Werlinger, Annie Spencer, Ken Bonn and Gary Boon traveled to Las Vegas for the Special Olympics United National Bowling Tournament.
Payson sent to Tucson two years ago the unified team of John Sexton, David Frohme, George Karrys, R.D. Nielsen, Chad Torgenson and Bonn to the inaugural Swim, Bike and Run Special Olympics Triathlon.
In 2005, a field of 13 local athletes traveled to Phoenix for the summer games.
This month, athletes have been in Flagstaff for the winter games and have traveled to Prescott for basketball, said Derwort.
All those trips are costly and the donations received from local organizations, like the Knights of Columbus, help pay the travel tab.
More from Derwort
After thanking the Knights of Columbus for their donation, Derwort went on to explain more about the program, saying there are currently 80 local athletes, ages eight through adult, participating in Special Olympics.
Around the world, SO serves more than 2.25 million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 200 countries.
In Arizona, about 20,500 athletes participate.
In addressing the Knights, Derwort also sent out a plea for more volunteers to assist in the program, especially as Unified Partners.
It’s obvious the need there is great because months ago, SO coach Ruby Lane was forced to scour the Rim Country in search of a second partner for the Payson snowshoeing team that planned on participating in the upcoming Winter Games.
“We only had one partner and we needed two,” said Lane.
Unified Partner Sports, which involves mixing two Special Olympic athletes with two partners who do not qualify as SO athletes, is relatively new.
But with the growing popularity of the program, Special Olympics athletes and their teammates without intellectual disabilities now practice and play together on Unified Sports teams.
SO officials explain the concept as “a moving and exciting initiative for higher ability athletes of all ages, from youth to adults. Mixed teams provide the public direct opportunities to experience firsthand the capabilities and courage of Special Olympics athletes.”
Derwort said the benefits in volunteering as a Unified Partner can be found in the friendship and bonding that occurs with SO athletes.
For more about the local program or to volunteer, call Derwort at (928) 474-9142.