Dublin Villager

Special Olympics USA Games

Local athletes are excited for chance to compete

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At the weekly practice, nicknames and inside jokes are lobbed from athlete to coach with ease.

The Goodwill Gladiators seek to give Special Olympians a positive, confidence-building athletic experiences with practice, competitions, banners and next month, a chance to compete against the best in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.

Three central Ohio Special Olympics athletes earned spots on the 64-member Team Ohio to compete nationally in Princeton, N. J., June 14-21.

Dublin sisters Amy and Candice Williams will play on the Team Ohio women's basketball team and Grandview Heights resident Amanda Kerze will compete in women's tennis with Team Ohio.

"We've never been (to national competition) before," Candice Williams said. "We're really excited."

Amanda Kerze will be new to the national games as well, but head coach and Special Olympics coordinator Steve Weaver is working hard to prepare them.

"I'm trying to keep them from getting nervous, especially Amanda," Weaver said. "Once competition starts, it's a smaller crowd, but it's hard to control nerves. It's really up to them."

The athletes can expect "spectacular" opening ceremonies packed with crowds of 27,000 to 30,000 people Weaver said.

The athletes will also get to fly to New Jersey on a private plane and will be able to trade pins, shirts and hats with teams from other states.

"We have state pins to try to encourage the athletes to meet others and trade pins," Weaver said. "We have people trying to get all 50 pins. The athletes love it."

To earn a spot at the national competition held every four years, athletes must get a gold medal at the state level, although that doesn't always guarantee a spot.

"Amanda got a gold medal," Weaver said. "The (Williams) twins qualified because we're putting a women's basketball team together and thought why not put the 'Towers' in?

"Henry County and Franklin County have the most prominent basketball teams, so we're putting them together."

Earning spots on Team Ohio came from lots of practice, Weaver said.

"There are no days off," he said.

"He makes us work," Amy Williams said.

"We work and have fun at the same time," Candice Williams agreed.

The athletes heading to nationals don't limit themselves to one sport during the year and seasons run one after another with little break in between.

The Williams sisters also play softball, flag football and tennis. Kerze also bowls, plays soccer and basketball.

"For athletes that compete as much as they do, it's nice they're going in something they're passionate about," Weaver said of the Special Olympics USA Games.

No matter how they perform at the national games next month, the athletes are excited about the experience and love to play, no matter where they are.

"Our goal is to give them a high school athletic experience," Weaver said.

"We have banners, letter jackets (and) an awards dinner. And not everyone gets an award. That's not how I work. We have team meetings."

"We do everything together," Candice Williams said.

"We're the only team with foam fingers," Weaver added.

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