For Becky Derwort, today’s trip to the Special Olympics Arizona Fall Games in Surprise is old hat.
That’s because the longtime Northern Gila County SO Coordinator/coach and retired special education teacher has made the jaunt annually since the spring of 1978.
“Nothing new for me,” she said about the weekend pilgrimage to Surprise and Sun City where a 20-athlete swim team and 12 players in the bocce competition will represent Payson.
In all, including coaches and sponsors, 43 Payson representatives will make the trip that wraps up Sunday with closing ceremonies.
The opening ceremonies are set for 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. today, Oct. 14 in the Surprise Baseball Stadium, which is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers.
Professional mascots expected to participate in the ceremonies include the Phoenix Suns Gorilla, Arizona Diamondbacks’ Baxter, and Howler from the Phoenix Coyotes. Members of the Arizona Rattlers Arena Football team will escort Special Olympic athletes into the ceremonies. Walt Disney Radio is scheduled to host the opening ceremonies that will also feature an appearance by Surprise Mayor Skip Hall.
Bocce competition begins tomorrow at the Sundial Recreation Center in Sun City.
Swimming competition, which includes the traditional events of freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and relays will be held in the Surprise Aquatics Center.
More than 1,000 athletes from around the state are expected to compete in the fall games.
In preparing for the games, Payson bocce athletes practice several times weekly at Green Valley Park and the swim team tuned up during the summer at Taylor Pool.
When it closed for the season, swimmers moved their practice sessions to the indoor Tonto Apache pool.
For Derwort, today’s fall games are much more sophisticated than when she first began coaching 43 years ago.
“Then they had only one person on the state staff and now there is a complete support services office in Phoenix,” she said. “It’s run much more professionally and is much larger than in the early years.”
Under the leadership of Derwort and her group of dedicated volunteers, the Payson Special Olympic program has blossomed into one of the finest in the state.
A year ago, the Payson SO program sent 31 athletes, 15 coaches and eight Unified Partners to the USA National Games in Lincoln, Neb. There, the local partners participated alongside SO athletes in flag football and soccer.
Also last year, Payson sent the Unified Sports bowling team of Anne Spencer, Todd Orr, Shelly Orr and Carol Nethan to Reno, Nev. for the SO national championships. There, teams captured gold, silver and fifth-place medals in various competitions.
Just three years ago, the unified team of John Sexton, David Frohme, George Karrys, R.D. Nielsen, Chad Torgenson and Bonn represented the Rim Country in the inaugural Swim, Bike and Run Special Olympics Triathlon in Tucson.
In 2007, Payson’s most accomplished Special Olympics athlete, David Frohme, and several of his teammates were prominently featured on a first-ever SO Arizona Promotion DVD.
Frohme and SO coach Ruby Lane were among the invited guests who participated in a premiere of the DVD shown to the public on a big screen at the Beauty of a Bonzer Concert for Charity at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix.
Watching the DVD with the Arizona Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers were Sammy Hagar and Cheap Trick band members, who later performed.
Frohme returned to Payson saying the event was one of the best experiences of his life.