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Sports Camp: Wild, Wild West

My name is Rachel Antal and this is my 5th year at Special Olympics Missouri Sports Camp at Missouri Military Academy (MMA) in Mexico, Mo. I started as a junior counselor, was a head coach last year and was the photographer at camp this year.

The athletes don’t officially arrive until Sunday but the “camp lady” Susan Shaffer, Nurse Sherry and I start first thing Saturday morning on preparing camp. This year we were lucky enough to have Genice Fisher, Matt Cepeda, and Justin Bernhardt’s help to set up.

Sunday came around and the first athlete was at Mexico Military Academy at 11:30, which meant camp had officially begun. I passed out nametags as each excited face made their way in the door. Some were a little nervous about leaving their mom and dad for the first time since this year we had a lot of new campers. We also had many new chaperones join us this year including SOMO’s own staff member, Jonathon Hankinson.Through the course of the day, 162 people entered MMA to start the week.

Sunday night was spent getting to know your team, and they also completed the Train program, which determines what a good sport for them to play is.  After the opening session, the athletes get settled into what will be their home until Friday.

Monday was the first day of sports training all day for the athletes. I got to spend the morning with Renzi going around to all the sports events and taking pictures. Since I am so used to having a group, I kept looking for my team every so often to see if they were following me. I heard that World Games Aquatics gold medalist Chris Ringot raced DJ Hewlett in the pool and won. Right after lunch the athletes get rest time, which I believe must be taken advantage of. Then they continue to their afternoon events, which are a little more laid back.

For Monday night’s activity, the teams competed in a minute to win it competition. They were given different challenges and had certain requirements on completing them. Of course staff is never missed, so I had to build a house of cards against some other athletes and the lifeguard, Brittany. Somehow Matt C. was able to get a small one built and won. I also had to wrap someone in toilet paper and got to choose my victim, I mean partner ;). I choose Brittany Selken and we dominated. After a fun night of camp songs, silly competitions and cheering our team on, it was time to call it quits for Monday. We made sure to initiate all our new counselors with the shaving cream cheese puff toss. It definitely got a little messy.

Tuesday started day 2 of sports training. Renzi and I spent the morning working on stuff for relay night. In the afternoon, the athletes got to fish, so I was out at the pond taking pictures. One of the athletes caught a catfish. Some of the other people insisted that I kiss it, so I bent down after loads of begging. It moved right when I was going to so I jumped really big but finally kissed it on the head. (Blah, not again.) Fishing is probably one of the most fun events the athletes do because they get so excited when they catch something even if it is a turtle.

Because of the heat today, we did not do our evening activity and instead it was free time for the athletes. We did all go down to the field to take the group picture. I got to corral 160 people into the bleachers and get them all to smile. It wouldn’t be a normal year of camp if someone didn’t get me somehow. One year I had an egg cracked on me after the egg toss was over, last year my sheets were tied to the fence. This year one of the boys swiped my nametag out from under my nose so I had to do the chicken dance in front of everyone to get it back. We act crazy and goofy sometimes but I love every minute of Sports Camp.

Wednesday continued much of the schedule as Monday and Tuesday. Renzi and I spent the morning printing out the camp group pictures then we finally found the pool. It was freezing but felt nice after you got used to it. Chris Ringot had demolished everyone this week in a race in the pool and turned the challenge on me. Lets just say I have a lot of room for improvement. I stayed pretty close until we were turning around to come back and then I lost by at least a half a pool. I am proud of Chris though and glad that he represented Missouri well at World Games.

I spent my afternoon at the pond again watching the athletes catch fish. A great quote of the day was by athlete Mark when he caught a turtle in the pond and was like “I got Donatello! I got one of the Ninja Turtles!”

This evening was relay night. The athletes competed in various western challenges including picking sponges out of the “cow patty,” a.k.a. mud. They would run and grab one and then run back to their gun. They were such a hoot to watch and everyone had a good time. The staff and counselors finished off the night by competing in the egg toss. Junior counselors Morgan and Haley won the egg toss. I got lucky because I had to take pictures of it and didn’t get egg on me.

Thursday was the last full day at Sports Camp. The athletes continued on the same schedule as the rest of the week. I spent my morning sorting the crafts, then Renzi and I got the shirts ready to pass out on Friday. In the afternoon, I worked on getting my slide show set up for Friday and made a Walmart run for Shaffer.

Thursday night is everyone’s favorite night of camp – the dance. We had a great time. At MASC Camp last week, Matt, Justin, and I learned a dance that you can do to any fast paced song so we started doing it, and soon half of the room was doing it with us. The athletes were nothing but smiling, dressed up in their western outfits.

It has been a tradition it seems like in the past couple years for camp pranks. Needless to say, my room ended up having streamers and toilet paper all over it but Emily and I thought it was hilarious. We finished off the night by pulling a couple of our own.

Friday was a hard day for all. We all of course are ready to be back to our own beds, but we don’t want to leave camp either. Saying goodbye to 160 of your new closest friends isn’t easy. This being my 5th year and seeing many people I already knew, saying goodbye is only harder. All the teams competed in a kickball tournament then the certificates and shirts were passed out to every team.

After hugs, Nurse Sherry and I were in my car, headed for home. As we pulled out of MMA, the car horn was blazing to let everyone know that one of the best weeks of summer was over.