The State Summer Games in Stevens Point is a family affair for many Wisconsin families, some of whom have looked forward to it for years as a summer tradition on par with the annual trip to the cabin in the Northwoods.
But perhaps no family can compete with the Strassers in terms of the Summer Games truly being a family affair. For the roughly 40 years that the Summer Games have taken place in Stevens Point, Carol and George Strasser and their family have made volunteering for the event a can’t-miss family tradition.
“We all look forward to working with the athletes. The grandkids make friends with the athletes and look forward to seeing them the next year.” – George Strasser
It started in the late 1970’s when George’s brother-in-law, Skip Worzalla, helped Special Olympics Wisconsin move the Summer Games to Stevens Point. Carol and George had never volunteered for a Special Olympics event prior to the Summer Games’ arrival in Stevens Point but they were certainly more than willing to help out family. They weren’t able to attend the very first one because they had their hands full with their own small children, but the next year they hit the ground of UW-Stevens Point’s Colman Track running… or at least staging, which is the job the whole family has worked since the very beginning.
In staging, the Strassers have been a constant Summer Games presence for the thousands of track and field athletes who have participated over the years. Carol, George, their kids, their grandkids, and many other family members have helped bring athletes to their starting places and prepare them for their events. They also direct the athletes to the awards area after their events are completed. In essence they control the chaos of athletes entering and leaving the track as the events rapidly unfold and transition from one race to the next, with bang-bang precision being of utmost importance in the track and field environment.
Staying in staging for four decades has allowed the Strassers to get to know many of the athletes who return every year. “We love seeing the same people over and over. You get to know the athletes. That’s what we like. It’s a good feeling to be able to connect with them,” Carol said.
All four of Carol and George’s children volunteered growing up. The two that still live in the Stevens Point area continue to volunteer. Four of the Strasser grandkids are still volunteering. Their current crew also includes a son-in-law, a niece, a nephew and a great niece. The Summer Games has served as an important lesson passed from generation to generation. “Getting started with volunteerism at a young age is really important,” Carol said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know you can help someone else.”
Apart from fostering the desire to give back to the community, the Summer Games is also a major bonding experience for the Strassers. One of their most treasured highlights is the tailgate-type party they hold in the parking lot at the end of each day of competition, where family and friends gather to enjoy each other’s company on a typically warm summer night.
“Getting started with volunteerism at a young age is really important. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you can help someone else.” – Carol Strasser
Of course, the family tradition has also helped the Strassers and their offspring to become intimately familiar with the Special Olympics philosophies of inclusion and acceptance. “It’s brought an understanding of Special Olympics athletes and people with intellectual disabilities,” George said. “We all look forward to working with the athletes. The grandkids make friends with the athletes and look forward to seeing them the next year.”
Their granddaughter Andrea plans to become a special education teacher in part due to her experiences and relationships she’s developed during many summers of working in staging.
The Strassers’ contributions to the Summer Games haven’t only been on the track though. Since early in their involvement, they’ve been members of the Games Management Team for the Summer Games, meaning they’ve helped coordinate the event. “Back in the day, we had to call all these volunteers. It was a lot of hours, but it was fun,” Carol said. Thankfully technology has helped take that responsibility off their plate, but they still help determine what each Summer Games experience will be like for the athletes, volunteers and spectators in attendance.
So when you spot Carol and George Strasser helping out the athletes on Colman Track during next week’s Summer Games, give them a word of thanks for their four decades of service, and for bringing their family along for the ride. Special Olympics Wisconsin certainly can’t thank them enough.