Everyone has their favorite time of year. For one Springfield family, it’s this weekend when the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games brings more than 2,200 athletes and coaches from around the state to the city.

Mike and Julie Willoughby have three children competing in the games, 8-year-old Alex, 10-year-old Bayleah and 16-year-old Cassie. Alex, who has Down Syndrome, will compete in track events as will Cassie, who has dyslexia. Bayleah will compete in team events that require one member who does not have disabilities to participate.

“For them, it is their Christmas,” Julie Willoughby said. “ It’s their birthday. It’s all that rolled into one. It is their time when their disabilities don’t slow them down.”

Not only do the kids have fun, they’re learning valuable skills they will use for the rest of their lives, such as sportsmanship, taking turns and character education. They’re also learning a spirit of “can” instead of “can’t.”

“We never say ‘disabilities,’” Julie Willoughby said. “We always say ‘different abilities.’”

The State Summer Games officially kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday with the Opening Ceremony at Hammons Student Center at Missouri State University. The ceremony features the Parade of Athletes, the culmination of the statewide Law Enforcement Torch Run, the lighting of the Flame of Hope, the traditional declaration, a special performance by Allie & the Catz and other 80’s-themed fun. The event is free and open to the public.

Game venues and times are:

  • Track & Field: 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at MSU
  • Aquatics:  9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Drury University
  • Powerlifting: 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at MSU
  • Volleyball 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday at MSU
  • Soccer (DEMO): 4-6 p.m. Saturday at MSU

Volunteers are still needed for the event, especially Sunday. To sign up, visit www.somo.org/summergames or send email to Austin Rippeto at Rippeto@somo.org.

Special Olympics is dedicated to improving the health and fitness of athletes, through organized sports training and competition and providing free health screenings through the Healthy Athletes program. All of these screenings are provided for SOMO athletes free of charge. The Healthy Athlete Park will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hammons Student Center.

Special Olympics Missouri is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 16,000 athletes participate in 21 Olympic-type sports throughout the state. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy as they participate in the sharing of gifts and friendship with their fellow athletes, their family and friends, and communities across Missouri.

The State Summer Games would not be possible without the generous contributions of sponsors. Statewide partners are: Knights of Columbus, the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Missouri Automobile Dealers Association, Missouri Association of Student Councils and Shop ‘n Save. Presenting sponsors are are: KOLR 10, Alice 95.5, Southwest Dairy Farmers and Mercy Hospital Emergency Medical Services.

This is one of many amateur sports events brought to Springfield through the efforts of the Springfield Sports Commission and Convention & Visitors Bureau. The nonprofit organizations work hand-in-hand to boost the local economy through growth in travel and tourism. For more information, call 417-881-5300.