Special Olympics fall event sees 30 percent growth in participation

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Nearly 1,000 Special Olympic athletes are competing this weekend at the University of Utah, and more athletes and their families are joining the action. This year the organization is welcoming 30 percent more Utah athletes to the Fall Sports Classic.

When a basketball game goes into overtime, and a couple of evenly-matched teams give every play 110 percent, memories and friendships are forged that last a lifetime.

"I get a charge out of being with good friends, a good team and a good win. And if we don't win, at least we tried," says basketball player Derek Holman.

**Did you know…**
• More than 2,200 athletes participate in Utah's Special Olympics • Athletes compete in 17 individual and team sports • More than 5,000 people volunteer for competitions and training
"They're great team players, but we want to keep playing," basketball player Tori Steffensen says.

Coach Scott Anderson says he gets as much out of it as his players.

"I learn a lot of heart from these kids," Anderson says. "No matter if they win or lose, they're happy. They enjoy life."

**17 Special Olympic sports in Utah:**
1. Alpine Skiing 2. Aquatics 3. Athletics 4. Basketball 5. Bocce 6. Bowling 7. Cross-Country Skiing 8. Cycling 9. Equestrian 10. Golf 11. Powerlifting 12. Snowshoeing 13. Snowboarding 14. Soccer 15. Softball 16. Volleyball 17. Motor Activities Training Program
Last year, the Special Olympics Utah Fall Sports Classic attracted 700 athletes. This year: 900 athletes and 250 coaches. "When you see the looks in their eyes, as we often say, everyone can't get a gold medal and everyone can't take first place, but that's not really what it's about," says Glenn Lanham, CEO of Special Olympics Utah.

Over in the swimming pool, Blake Baadsgard goes for a personal best in the pool. He competed in China two years ago in the World Games and brought home gold.

"It's my favorite sport," Baadsgard says. "My family loves it. My mom and my grandma, they love me so much."

Baadsgard enjoys the friendships he's made in Special Olympics. And when he gets in the water, he's ready to take on anyone.

"I love it. I'm going to win it all," Baadsgard says.

That thrill of competition and friendship is what keeps the Special Olympics athletes looking forward to the next event.

"It's fun, and you get to do a lot of activities and dance and have a great time," says swimmer Megan Sandberg.

Why the bigger numbers this fall? Lanham credits great staff and volunteers, as well as parents who are eager to get their children involved.

The athletes hold the Opening Ceremonies Friday night at the Huntsman Center at 7 p.m. [CLICK HERE for a list of events].

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com


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Jed Boal


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