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Four local athletes to compete among the best at Special Olympics national games

Aberdeen American News - 6/29/2018

June 29--"Team South Dakota."

The phrase was used over and over again as local athletes shared their thoughts on the Special Olympics USA Games. With pride, excitement and eagerness, four Aberdeen athletes are making the trip to represent their home state.

Mallory Bingham, 23; Jasmine Tonneson, 19; Skylar Pagel, 18; and Wade Uhrich, 28; are traveling to Seattle with their coaches Missy Hill and Peggy Heermann to take part in the 50th year of the games.

The games run from Sunday's opening ceremonies through July 6 and will feature 4,000 athletes and coaches.

For two, this isn't the first time at nationals. Uhrich and Bingham each went to the 2010 games in Lincoln, Neb., which is a memory they look back on with pride.

"One of my favorite things was going to Nebraska because I had never been there before," Bingham said regarding the games where she was one of the youngest participants. "I played basketball for Team South Dakota when we placed third."

Hill also attended the games in 2010 where she coached track.

Having been involved with Special Olympics for more than 20 years, Hill has been alongside each participant who will travel to this year's nationals for most, if not all, of their years with the program.

"It's nice to see them get better in their sports, but it's also fun seeing them grow up," Hill said.

She noted that Bingham has been an active participant in Special Olympics since holding a position on the leadership board in high school where athletes could give input on events.

This year, Bingham will take part in bocce, which was introduced in the South Dakota Special Olympics in the past couple years. She said the game is similar to both curling and bowling, but on grass. She said it is difficult and took a long time to learn.

Bocce is one of two sports that has both traditional and unified play, meaning athletes are partnered with a peer who does not have an intellectual disability.

Bingham has been partnered with someone from Belle Fourche, but will also play traditional bocce in singles competition.

Basketball has the two forms of play as well, but Pagel, Uhrich and Tonneson will each play traditional basketball for Team South Dakota.

While members of the Aberdeen group are excited for their events, they also look forward to watching friends from across the state compete while they spend the week in Seattle.

"It's fun. You cheer not only yourself on but your other teammates, too," Uhrich said.

He looks forward to seeing family in Seattle as he said he has 36 relatives making the trip to watch.

The athletes each recognized their parents as their biggest supporters since joining Special Olympics, and are ready to compete with their folks watching in the stands.

Nerves don't seem to be much of an issue for the four as they're more excited than anything.

"I think it's just fun to see them interact with one another and then watch them compete whether they win or lose," Heermann said.

This will be the first national games for both Pagel and Tonneson, and it is something they are eager for.

"I'm excited to see Seattle and play basketball with the team," Pagel said.

In order to be selected for the national games, there is an application process for both coaches and athletes. The Games Committee Board for each state selects the coaches, who then work together to choose athletes, Heermann said. The athletes are then divided among different sports.

South Dakota is sending 68 athletes and partners to the national games, and they will participate in swimming, softball, track, bocce and basketball.

Local athletes and coaches going to the Special Olympics USA Games, which open Sunday in Seattle

--Mallory Bingham, 23, bocce.

--Skylar Pagel, 18, basketball.

--Jasmine Tonneson, 19, basketball.

--Wade Uhrich, 28, basketball.

--Peggy Heermann, coach.

--Missy Hill, coach.


(c)2018 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.)

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