Barely a month after the Wisconsin Force took bronze in softball during a memorable trip to Nashville, Tennessee for the Special Olympics North America Softball Championship, another Special Olympics Wisconsin group made their way to the Music City for an international competition.
This time around, 10 Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes and Unified partners participated in the 2019 Special Olympics North America Golf Championship that took place September 22 – 25 at the Hermitage Golf Course in the Nashville suburb of Old Hickory.
More than 230 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners, representing 23 U.S. and Canadian Special Olympics programs were in attendance for the tournament. The event officially began Sunday evening on September 22 with an Opening Ceremony at the course.
Competition took place over the following three days, with awards presented at the end of competition on Wednesday, September 25. Athletes competed in 9-hole or 18-hole individual play, while Unified partners joined athletes for Unified competition.
Wisconsin’s golfers held their own on the beautiful course tucked along the banks of the Cumberland River, using the club’s natural beauty and signature roaming sheep as added motivation to perform their best. Athlete Elliot Bennett of Madison and his Unified partner and father Harold Bennett took silver in alternate team shot while fellow Madison athlete Jake Vanderbloemen earned a bronze in 18-hole individual. And while the remaining squad brought home lots of ribbons that they should be mighty proud of, the trip was about so much more than awards for the squad. It was about the experiences.
LPGA professional golfer and Special Olympics supporter In-Kyung Kim (I.K. Kim) spoke at the Opening Ceremony and was on hand to meet with the athletes and Unified partners throughout the tournament. After the first day of golf, all competitors were treated by Special Olympics North America to a trip to the unique entertainment venue, Topgolf.
Of course, members of the delegation were also able to have fun on their own outside of competitions and Special Olympics sponsored events. Tyler Derringer of West Allis made the most of the trip when not competing in his 9-hole event. As a big hockey fan, he was able to visit the Bridgestone Arena, where the Nashville Predators of the NHL play. Derringer is, of course, a huge fan of the Predators’ minor league team, the Milwaukee Admirals.
He and other members of the Wisconsin delegation were also able to taste some of Nashville’s famous southern cuisine, visiting famed restaurants like Edley’s Bar-B-Que and the southern staple, Waffle House.
Derringer was joined on many of these adventures by his mom, Claudia, who also serves as the agency manager for West Allis Special Olympics, as well as fellow West Allis resident Ken Kuemmerlein, who served as the Head of Delegation for Team Wisconsin and Tyler’s caddie for the tournament.
But as delicious as the southern food was, the non-golfing highlight of the trip for the Derringers and Kuemmerlein may have been seeing the Charlie Daniels Band at the historic Grand Ole Opry. “That was awesome when he played ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’” Tyler Derringer said.
It was the perfect way to cap off an incredible experience that meant so much to Tyler Derringer and the Wisconsin team. “It means a great deal to me to represent SOWI in this event. And also to represent my agency in West Allis,” he said.
Whether they brought home a medal or not, he and his teammates were happy to get such a unique opportunity filled with so many memorable moments on a big stage, even if it wasn’t quite as big a stage as the one Charlie Daniels fiddled on in the Grand Ole Opry.