| This photo was taken at a softball championship in Florida, which is one of the 16 states that will be represented at the North American tournament next month in Oklahoma City. (Photo courtesy of Special Olympics)
SPECIAL OLYMPICS SOFTBALL FLOURISHING
When references are made to the worldwide participation in softball, the conversation can go pretty deep. There are boys, girls, men, and women playing the sport in all five regions around the world (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) and they’re doing so across several disciplines. As the world governing body for the sport, the International Softball Federation promotes and develops the sport in fast pitch, slow pitch, modified pitch, arena (indoor) softball, wheelchair softball, beach softball, and for people with intellectual disabilities. The latter is not new. It’s here to stay.
According to data from Special Olympics International (SOI), close to 80 thousand Special Olympics athletes in 69 programs in 30 countries participated in softball last year. This reflected an increase of almost two thousand athletes over 2010.
Furthermore, last year, at the venue used for the 2004 Olympic softball competition in Athens, Greece, eight teams competed in the softball tournament at the Special Olympics World Summer Games. SOI hopes to increase that to a 12-team global tournament by the next World Summer Games, which will be held in 2015 in Los Angeles.
To an extent, the United States is already showing its readiness for hosting a major Special Olympics softball tournament. Next month the 2012 Special Olympics North America Softball Invitational Tournament will take place in Oklahoma City, with 33 teams coming from across the United States as well as Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. In all, 400 athletes will represent 16 states and three visiting countries.
Held in Chicago last year, the three-day event will kick off with an opening ceremony on September 21st with USA Softball Olympic gold medalist (2004) Amanda Freed as master of ceremonies.
“Softball emphasizes teamwork, physical fitness, and strategic thinking - benefits and skills found on the playing field that people with intellectual disabilities can use to become active, contributing members of their communities,” said Bob Gobrecht, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics North America. "We see continued growth in softball, with more than 78,000 Special Olympics athletes participating in the sport globally.”
Both traditional Special Olympics teams and Unified Sports teams (people with and without intellectual disabilities playing on the same team) will be represented throughout the weekend and medals will be awarded for each division. Each of the 33 competing teams qualified for the September event through a series of tournaments throughout the summer.
Scores, updates, and live streaming of select games from the Special Olympics North America Softball Invitational Tournament will be available through www.asasoftball.com. All events are free and open to the public.
Following a signing ceremony last year in Athens during the World Summer Games, Special Olympics International is an ISF Development Partner. Last October at the ISF XXV Congress, ISF President Don Porter awarded SOI with the Medal of Honor, which is the highest recognition bestowed by the world governing body.
This discipline of softball has the momentum to keep its participation on the increase for years to come.