Jackson County Parks + Rec Recreation Therapist Bea Webb was technically on summer vacation, but she spent the last week of July working as a volunteer at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.
It was an extension of the work she has done for the last 35 years, providing leisure activities for Jackson Countians with intellectual disabilities. Webb even became the legal guardian of Arthur Murphy, when his mother died. He was one of three Jackson County adults who participated in the recently concluded World Games.
“I have always worked with special needs,” Webb said. “I guess that’s my calling.”
Arthur Murphy and the two other World Games Special Olympians from Jackson County have long participated in activities organized by Parks + Rec’s Special Populations Services. Since 1973, the department has sponsored sporting and other recreational activities, such as dances and classes, for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
“It’s an important focus for the county,” said Parks + Rec Director Michele Newman. “It’s a longstanding, successful program. Bea and her colleagues are amazing women. Not only are they talented and knowledgeable, but they are so incredibly passionate about what they do. They really believe in their mission, which is getting these individuals as involved as possible. The whole idea is inclusion within the community.”
Webb said the field has grown and become more specialized during her tenure. Last year more than 2,000 Jackson Countians participated. Thus it’s harder to find facilities -- outdoor fields, indoor courts and other rooms -- in which to hold activities, Webb said.“Things are more costly than it was before,” she said. “Now you have to raise money.”
The integration of athletes without disabilities alongside special-needs athletes on various teams -- they’re call “unified partners” v began in the 1990s and has made Special Olympics “more noticeable” to the general public, Webb said.
Webb should know. She is certified as a coach in 11 sports.
On a recent afternoon at Longview Lake Park, she directed a softball team practice, hitting balls to the outfielders and encouraging them to make accurate throws in.
“She is an excellent coach,” said Marsha Roselli, a unified partner who was watching from a lawn chair behind the backstop. “She cares not just about how they play, but what’s happening in their lives.”
“Bea has taught a zillion people how to be good coaches with special-needs people,” said Mike Lowry, a coach and unified partner. “It’s about increasing expectations, teaching responsibility. They’re softball players first. Then they play for Special Olympics. It gives a little different viewpoint. Special Olympics athletes are people first.... Then you adapt so they can grow as best they can.
“Special Olympics is a catalyst for life-skills development,” Lowry added. “It teaches you to take care of yourself, to toilet and bathe and wash, to be appropriate in society, and possibly even get a job.
“We’ve got one young man who played basketball for five years. His level of responsibility grew every year, and today he is in the U.S. Navy. He was able to grow in confidence and belief in himself.”
Arthur Murphy and Allen Tobin, both of Independence, were members of the USA men’s softball team in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Their USA-Missouri squad won a silver medal in its bracket. Robert Williams of Lee’s Summit played both singles and doubles tennis at the games. He won a silver in the singles competition. Williams and his doubles partner, Jeff Scott of California, won a gold medal despite the fact that they only practiced together for a few days before the competition. They defeated a team from Belgium in the final match.
The World Games took place July 25-August 1 in California.
Webb coached Jackson County athletes and participated as a unified partner in bowling at the 2007 World Games in Shanghai, China, and again in 2011 in Athens, Greece. This year, she was not a coach but, rather, a volunteer at the tennis facility.
“It’s next to the softball fields, so I get to go watch softball when I am not working,” Webb said. “I know everybody on the team.”