By Jay Nies
Fourth-degree Knights of Columbus in full regalia got a turn with the shovels as work began on the Special Olympics of Missouri’s $16 million Training for Life campus in Jefferson City.
Knights joined dignitaries and Special Olympics of Missouri (SOMO) athletes from all over the state at the May 4 ground-breaking ceremony.
“God is definitely in this effort,” stated Knights State Deputy Joseph Rosenthal, a member of Our Lady of the Lake parish and Knights Council 6470 in Branson.
“I mean, who else could make this happen?” he said. “We’re just His instruments to help bring all of this about. It’s such a blessing.”
Special Olympics is a national organization that promotes acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities through year-round sports.
Scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2018, the 34,000-square-foot complex will include a sports skill development center, a health and fitness center, a sports leadership training center and the SOHO state and central region headquarters, along with a multipurpose outdoor field and track.
It will be the first facility of its kind in the world built solely for improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by having athletic training and healthy athletes screenings in the same location.
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Gary Wilbers, chairman of the Training for Life Capital Campaign steering committee, exhorted. “Let us celebrate this historic day, a day that will go down in history for special Olympics of Missouri!”
Missouri Knights made a $1.2 million, six-year pledge to the construction cost, through individual councils and the state council.
Once the complex is completed, an estimated 1,200 athletes, along with coaches and volunteers, will take advantage of year-round training opportunities each year.
“The Training for Life Campus will be transformational for our athletes,” Mr. Wilbers said. “Our very deserving athletes will have opportunities to train, get health screenings and develop skills at the campus facilities. They’ll finally have a place to call their own.”
SOMO offers a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
More than 15,300 athletes of all ages participate in 21 Olympic-type sports throughout the state.
These provide people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and participate in the sharing of gifts and friendship with their fellow athletes, their family and friends, and communities across Missouri.
Farmer Holding Co. and Twehous Excavating, both of Jefferson City, donated the 16.5-acre property, located near the northeast corner of US Highway 54 and Missouri Highway 179 in Jefferson City.
In addition to the Knights, other substantial donations to the project came from Centene Corporation, the Navy Foundation and the Missouri Law Enforcement Torch Run.
SOMO athletes from around the state have helped raise over $250,000 for this center.
Mr. Wilbers is a member of St. Stanislaus parish in Wardsville and of Knights of Columbus Wardsville/Osage Bend Council 8399. He said the Training for Life campus will serve current and future generations of individuals with intellectual disabilities, with programs specifically designed to improve health, fitness and socialization.
“This campus will be the largest facility of its type in the United States,” he said. “This campus will provide enrichment opportunities for new and existing programs, such as our healthy athlete program, life skills training, exercise programs — and even early intervention services for children as young as 3, with our young athlete program.”
SOMO athletes are eager to begin training at the complex.
“It is going to make me grow as an athlete and as a human being in our everyday society,” stated Derek Sandbothe, a Jefferson City native and SOMO athlete. “The Special Olympics Training for Life campus will give us a chance to make more of ourselves, to make ourselves feel accepted in the community and loved by others.”
Mr. Sandbothe has been a SOMO athlete for 15 years. He said he and his fellow athletes have forged many great friendships through their participation in the Special Olympics State Games as well as practices and tournaments each year.
He noted that the Training for Life complex will host at least 30 camps every year for SOMO athletes throughout Missouri to come and train in their sport.
“It’s going to be a big, huge success to all of us,” he said.
He lauded his fellow athletes for the work they’ve done to help raise money for the complex.
“I’m very proud of each and every one of you guys,” he said.
Mark Musso, president and CEO of Special Olympics of Missouri, said the start of construction is an answer to many prayers.
“Today you stand on a site that in the very near future will become a world-class, one-of-a-kind sports training campus that will transform tens of thousands of lives for decades and decades to come,” he stated.
He thanked many people for helping to bring the plan to fruition, including donors, civic leaders, SOMO board members, committee members, volunteers, athletes and families.
“You’re making dreams come true!” he said. Mr. Rosenthal noted that a little more than two years into the six-year pledge period, the Knights had raised $646,000 of the $1.2 million pledge.
“We are so proud of the Knights and all the efforts put forth from the time Special Olympics started in Missouri to the present day,” he said. “So I can’t thank the councils enough for all the effort that they put forth.”
“This will be the best thing that ever happened to these athletes,” stated Knights Past State Deputy Charlie Bernskoetter, a member of Immaculate Conception parish and Knights of Columbus Fr. Helias Council 1054 in Jefferson City.
“And not just for the state of Missouri but for the United States,” added David Kiesling, the Knights’ diocesan chairman for the Jefferson City diocese. “People from all over the United States will come here for this.”
The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, has been involved with Special Olympics for many years — “from the Supreme Council all the way down to the state level and all the way down to the grassroots, council level,” said Mr. Rosenthal.
Special Olympics ranks among the largest gifts the Knights make in terms of time and money each year, according to the order’s website (www.kofc.org). Since 1968, the Knights have raised and donated more than $600 million to programs for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.