Bea Webb sums up what she likes most about being a Special Olympics coach in a single word: "Smiles."
Those smiles that have inspired Webb lit up the Jackson County Legislative Chamber on Monday, August 4, when County Executive Mike Sanders presented proclamations to 11 athletes and four coaches for their participation in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games, held June 13-21 in Princeton, New Jersey. Webb, a recreational therapist in the Jackson County Parks + Rec Special Populations Services Division the last 35 years, was among the four coaches.
"It really is just about the smiles for me," said Webb. "Whether or not someone wins a medal -- not everyone gets a medal -- as long as everyone is happy and smiling that's all that really matters. These athletes always give 100 percent. Sometimes they'll give you 150 percent.
"To me, that's what is rewarding."
Webb's association with the Special Olympics dates back even further than her career with Jackson County -- all the way back to 1977. She called 2014 a "phenomenal year" as Missouri had more representation than ever before at the USA Games. All told, 125 athletes competed for the Show-Me State, with 22 of the 125 being from the Kansas City area.
"Look up the word special in the dictionary," said County Executive Sanders. "It means better than ordinary or extraordinary. What we have here today are some amazing and extraordinary people, and not just extraordinary people but extraordinary athletes."
He stressed that the athletes embodied the Special Olympics mission: "To encourage and empower people with intellectual disabilities, and to promote acceptance for all."
On To The World Games
After handing out the last of the 15 proclamations, Sanders announced that three of the athletes present would be representing Missouri in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, which will be held in Los Angeles: Robert "Bobby" Williams of Lee's Summit, and Allen Robin and Arthur Murphy, both of Independence.
The World Games will feature more than 7,000 athletes from 177 countries.
Coaches nominate would-be World Game participants who are then selected based on evaluations conducted at Special Olympic sports camps.
"You have to be invited to the sports camps. You just can't go," Webb explained. "Once you're invited, though, it's all on your talent and your behavior. Everything you do at the camp will be evaluated."
More Than 4 Million Participants Worldwide
President John Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics. In 1962 she invited young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her own backyard. Six years later "Camp Shiver" had expanded. In July of 1968, Chicago hosted the first-ever international Special Olympics Games.
A movement that started with a few hundred participants, Sanders pointed out, has expanded to more than 4 million athletes from more than 170 nations.
He noted, "The athletes standing right here in front us today show us what the Special Olympics are all about -- the joy, the encouragement, the dedication and the spirit."
Webb emphasized that while Special Olympians "like the medals," for the vast majority the most rewarding aspect of participating is the socialization.
Webb is certified to coach 11 different sports.
"What the athletes want to do," she said, "that's what we learn to coach."
While Parks + Rec Special Populations Services Division is quite active in Special Olympic, Webb stated, "We not only do sports. We also have social outings and hold dances. We try to enrich the lives of everyone in our programs each and every day."
THE ATHLETES & COACHES HONORED
Robert "Bobby" Williams from Lee's Summit, earned a gold medal in Tennis Unified* Doubles and a bronze medal in Tennis Singles.
Matthew Cepeda from Independence earned silver medals in Bocce Singles and Bocce Unified Doubles, and placed fourth in the Bocce Unified Team event.
Mike Lowry, a unified partner from Sugar Creek, earned a silver medal in Bocce Unified Team event and a bronze medal in the Bocce Unified Double event.
Coach Kathy Lowry, a Bocce coach for Jackson County Parks + Rec Special Services Division, led two competitors to medal wins.
Cecil "CJ" O'Neal, a Unified Partner from Independence, earned a silver medal in the Bowling Unified Doubles event and a bronze medal in the Bowling Unified Team event.
Michael Lunceford from Independence earned gold medals in the Bowling Singles event and Bowling Doubles event, and placed fourth in the Bowling Regulation Team event.
Coach Bea Webb, Bowling Coach for Jackson County Parks + Rec Special Services Division, led five competitors to medal wins.
Allen Tobin from Independence, earned a bronze medal in the men's 4kg shot put and placed fourth in the running long jump, fourth in the 200-meter dash and fifth in the 100-meter dash.
Coach Irvin Jones, Athletic Coach for Jackson County Parks + Rec Special Services Division, served as coach to Special Olympian Allen Tobin.
Arthur Murphy from Independence earned a bronze medal in the Volleyball Team event.
Mark Harris from Kansas City earned a bronze medal in the Volleyball Team event.
Jennifer Neihouse from Lee's Summit earned three gold medals -- in the 25-yard women's breaststroke, the 25-yard women's butterfly and the 4 x 50-yard freestyle relay -- and finished eighth-place in the 50-yard women's freestyle.
Kristin Carlson from Blue Springs earned silver medals in the 1,000-yard women's freestyle and 500-yard women's freestyle, and placed fourth in the 100-yard women's backstroke.
Coach Amy Wurst, Aquatics Coach for Jackson County Parks + Rec Special Services Division, successfully led two competitors to medal wins.
Samantha Snow from Independence earned a silver medal in basketball.
* Unified events pair Special Olympian athletes with non-Special Olympians to compete together.