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Making history: First ALPs University a success!

!Group photo

For the first ALPs University, we had 17 athlete-leaders and 17 mentors in attendance.

For the first time, Special Olympics Missouri hosted an Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs) University Nov. 7-8 in Warrenton. ALPs ( was designed to provide training for athletes who wish to expand their leadership role within Special Olympics Missouri.

Our athletes already learn how to achieve success, joy and acceptance on the field of competition, while ALPs will teach them how to achieve those same goals and feel just as empowered off the field of competition as respected leaders and spokespersons in their communities.

ALPs University is set up to function similar to any other college or university. Everyone will take an Introduction to ALPs class that gives our new athlete-leaders the basics on what leadership is and the class options that lie before them. Following Intro to ALPs, athlete-leaders will write a personal mission statement and choose a major depending on their interests. Majors vary from communications (public speaking) to technology (email/Internet, PowerPoint, etc.) to governance (boards and committees and Input Councils).

Future majors in the works will teach our athlete-leaders how to become coaches and officials, give them practice in teamwork and problem solving, show them how to write a resume and ace a job interview and so much more.

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From left, Joe Boss (mentor) and Clarence Bentley (athlete-leader) sit in the Governance: Input Councils class.

The goal of these courses and ALPs in general is to empower athletes so they can speak on behalf of SOMO as Global Messengers, serve as coaches and volunteers, sit on a board of directors, officiate competitions and represent other athletes as part of a SOMO Input Council. It’s all just one more way that Special Olympics Missouri is changing lives by giving our athlete-leaders the confidence to realize they do have things to offer their community.

Jefferson City athlete George Richardson is a communications major. After attending the first ALPs University Nov. 7-8, Richardson said his favorite part of the weekend was, “Going to my first class and learning to speak a lot clearer when giving a speech.” He also said he “enjoyed meeting other people.”

For some athletes, ALPs is about making new friends and learning leadership skills but for SOMO athlete and past SOMO board of directors member Robb Eichelberger from Boonville, it was about facing his fears. He chose the communications major to overcome his fear of public speaking.

Following ALPs, Eichelberger said, “I learned a lot about myself.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to write speeches and getting over my fear of public speaking.”

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Athlete-leaders and mentors work as SOMO Central Area Program Coordinator Megan Wallace watches on during the Technology: Email/Internet class.

His courage not only inspired other athletes but he inspired many staff members and mentors as well.

To take part in ALPs, each athlete-leader must have a mentor to assist them both during and after their classes.

Joe Boss, a mentor from Jefferson City said, “It was a wonderful experience.

“As a mentor the biggest thing I learned was how much the athletes wanted to talk and be themselves. I learned not to assume that the shyest of people wouldn’t come out of their shell. They got it right away and spoke more than I expected.”

At the conclusion of the weekend, each athlete-leader had the opportunity to voice their opinion at an Input Council. These Input Councils are a time where SOMO staff members can ask SOMO participants two simple questions, “What did you like?” and “What needs to be changed?”

For so long, staff members, coaches, family members and society in general have all just assumed what was best for our athletes. We never asked them their opinion on anything because we assumed they didn’t have much to share. The paradigm shift in this thinking has been happening – albeit slowly — for some time now as we’ve realized that not only do our athletes have opinions, but they have great ones to share from a much needed new perspective.

As far as training pubic speakers, SOMO has trained what we call “Global Messengers” for years. A Global Messenger is an athlete who goes through a training to learn to how to write and give speeches about their Special Olympics story. Through ALPs, these Global Messengers now have the opportunity to improve those skills by declaring a communications major and taking their public speaking to the next level through a second Global Messenger training that’s more intense and offers a wide range of speaking opportunities.

Derek Sandbothe of Jefferson City has been a trained Global Messenger for many years now and has been giving speeches all around mid-Missouri ever since. Sandbothe was able to attend the first ever ALPs University and, because of his prior speaking experience, advance directly into the Global Messenger II course.

“I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot,” Sandbothe said. “Jacob, my professor, was great and even helped me with my homework that night (at the hotel) which was awesome.

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From left, Lisa Gardner (mentor) and Joseph Niemeyer (athlete-leader) discuss what Special Olympics means to them during the Communications: Global Messenger I class.

“My favorite part of athlete leadership program was gaining leadership skill and learning how to give my speeches and how to shorten them. I learned a lot about speeches and how to approach different businesses and how to speak from the heart about how much Special Olympics means to me and what it has done for me over the years.”

At the end of each class, every athlete-leader has a practicum (homework) to complete before they can move on to the next class in their major. Depending on what class they took it could range from volunteering at their local SOMO office, to giving five speeches, to a series of technology-related tasks. It’s important that they have some kind of practical application for all of the lessons they just learned so it all stays fresh in their minds between classes.

The hope is that depending on schedules and personal preferences on what classes they take, each athlete-leader can graduate from ALPs University in two years (we offer two ALPs Universities per year). They are then free to come back and declare another major or even teach the very classes they were just sitting in. It’s all about getting them to realize their potential and give them plenty of opportunities to try new things and grow as people and leaders.

Special Olympics Missouri could not be more excited to offer this new leadership program to our athletes. We now not only believe that our athletes can be great leaders, but we are empowering them to do so! To learn more about the Athlete Leadership Program or how to become a mentor visit

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A huge thank-you goes out to the ALPs Management Team who made this all possible!