MUSCATINE, Iowa–About 26 years ago, Special Olympics Muscatine organizers had a novel idea. To help team softball players prepare for district and state competition, they invited the Muscatine Fire Department to come play against them. Over the years, members of the Muscatine Police Department and Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office got involved too, and the game only grew in popularity. July 21, Muscatine’s Special Olympics athletes and first responders faced off in a pair of games at Kent-Stein Park.
With a healthy number of athletes on both Special Olympics’ developmental and division two teams, the night consisted of two separate games played simultaneously, a first for this event. Though this expanded format looked a little different than in years past, the skills and dedication of Special Olympics’ athletes did not. The Special Olympics division two team beat the first responders handily with a score of 14-6. In a nail bitingly close game, the Special Olympics developmental team brought home a victory of their own, scoring a walk off hit to beat the first responders 12-11.
“This year we had quite a few new athletes transition up from softball skills, so this was their first time playing in the first responders’ game,” noted Special Olympics Muscatine Director Jason Miller: “It was great to see them put all their skills to work through our softball skills program and the team practices we had before the game. They really did an amazing job playing together with our athletes who have been doing it for a long time.”
More than just a great way to sharpen their softball skills, the annual first responders’ game allowed Special Olympics athletes to engage in outside competition, something they have missed sorely since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With larger district and state competitions still on hold for the time being, the athletes welcomed the chance to play against a new team and enjoy the release that comes with fully immersing yourself in a sport. “With all of those bigger competitions being put on hold it was nice to still keep this tradition going,” said Miller: “Sports are our great escape from social, economic, and political issues, so it was really nice to not even have to think about those things. The comradery we have with our first responders makes it fun for athletes, coaches, and fans, and it is something we definitely needed.”
The Special Olympics softball players also appreciated the unique chance the games gave them to thank first responders for their service to the community. “We have the utmost respect for what our 1st responders do to help our community,” emphasized Miller. “For them to take time out of their family schedule to come out and play says a lot about their character. For that, we are grateful.”