More than 150 Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes and Unified partners from every corner of the state are making their way to Oshkosh this weekend to participate in SOWI’s USA Games Selection Camp.
Athletes in bowling, basketball, aquatics, athletics and bocce – plus athletes and Unified partners in Unified soccer – will be spending the weekend participating in a variety of clinics and events with the hope that they will be going to Seattle, Washington for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games taking place July 1-6. Those who successfully complete the selection camp will be entered into a random draw to determine who will be among the 54 folks representing Team Wisconsin next year. They will find out next week who was selected.
In order for athletes to be eligible for this weekend’s selection camp for the 2018 USA Games, they needed to have qualified in state competitions in 2017. They also must have submitted an application to attend the selection camp. Those who will be attending the selection camp are naturally quite excited about the opportunity.
“Just being accepted to the USA Games Selection Camp will stay with me forever,” said athlete Krystal Penaflor of Westfield. Penaflor will be one of the many athletes hoping to make the team of eight in aquatics. She nabbed her invitation to the selection camp by earning a gold medal in her division in the 50-meter backstroke at this year’s Summer Games.
SOWI athlete Brandon Heine of Johnson Creek, who competes with St. Coletta, is also looking forward to the selection camp. After securing a gold medal in mini-javelin at the Summer Games, the possibility of landing a spot on the athletics squad for Team Wisconsin is exciting. “I would love the opportunity to represent SOWI at the USA Games,” Heine said.
For approximately 30 basketball hopefuls, the selection camp will be a welcome return to the place that propelled them to consideration for Team Wisconsin in the first place. For more than 35 years now, UW-Oshkosh has hosted SOWI’s state basketball tournament – the Indoor Sports Tournament (IST). The athletes who hope to don the Team Wisconsin jersey earned their invitations to the selection camp by taking first place in their divisions earlier this year at IST.
Although SOWI will be utilizing locations like the Oshkosh Community YMCA and Shore View Lanes for training sessions, UW-Oshkosh’s Gruenhagen Conference Center will be hosting many of the weekend’s events and will be housing the athletes, coaches and staff throughout the camp. Just as the Team Wisconsin hopefuls are thrilled for the weekend, UW-Oshkosh is happy to get SOWI on campus again this year.
“I can’t overstate how much of a privilege it is to host Special Olympics Wisconsin for these big events. We love getting one a year when we get to host their annual Indoor Sports Tournament but to get two extra events between this weekend’s selection camp and next year’s Team Wisconsin training camp is fantastic,” said Marc Nylen, Director of the Gruenhagen Conference Center. “When Special Olympics Wisconsin is here it permeates every part of our campus.”
The selection camp weekend will get kicked off Friday night at Gruenhagen when UW-Oshkosh’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Dr. Cheryl Green, welcomes SOWI with a meet-and-greet. Then, some of UW-Oshkosh’s finest, who happen to be fixtures on SOWI’s Law Enforcement Torch Run, show off some of the cool videos they’ve produced to drum up support for the Run with the Cops event they’re hosting on October 5.
In addition to support from the school and University PD, Oshkosh businesses will be contributing to the selection camp weekend in a variety of ways as well.
“The fact that so many Oshkosh businesses come together when Special Olympics Wisconsin is in town shows that locally, businesses want to support initiatives like this,” Nylen said. “We love that the community embraces this partnership. We think it really helps drive awareness of Special Olympics Wisconsin and its impact.”
While we may not know yet who among those in attendance at UW-Oshkosh this weekend will be traveling to Seattle next July to represent Team Wisconsin, we do know that even getting the opportunity to participate in the selection camp is something the athletes and Unified partners are excited about.
“I am really happy to be chosen for the selection camp. This is my first time. If I get picked it would make my day. Thank you for all that you do for us SOWI and my coaches. I am so happy just to have a chance to do this,” said Katie Muench from West Allis, who looks to be one of eight members of Team Wisconsin’s bocce squad.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks to find out which of the 150-plus hopefuls – athletes like Katie Muench, Krystal Penaflor and Brandon Heine – will be among those representing Team Wisconsin in the 2018 USA Games!