They’re back

Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games come home this month to Mizzou.

a young athlete competes in the long jump during the special olympics

May 16, 2022
Contact: Sara Diedrich, 573-882-3243,

Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games are back — and no one could be more excited than the nearly 1,000 athletes, coaches, volunteers and unified partners from across the state who will converge on the University of Missouri and Rock Bridge High School May 20-22.

It’s the first State Summer Games to be held at MU since Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) announced a new partnership with Mizzou, MU Health Care and the University of Missouri System in 2019 — the same year the games were forced to cancel after a tornado ripped through Jefferson City, damaging SOMO’s headquarters and brand-new Training for Life Campus. The pandemic shut down the event in 2020 and limited competition to a single day in 2021.

MU is honored to host the comeback, which includes housing about 500 athletes in residence halls.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Laura Salerno, associate director of revenue operations and development at MizzouRec. “There are so many things that make this event special, especially seeing the athletes compete and cheer each other on. It’s inspiring.”

The State Summer Games will kick off with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. May 20 at MizzouRec. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and University of Missouri President Mun Choi are among those scheduled to speak at the event, which also will feature the arrival of the Law Enforcement Torch Run’s Flame of Hope.

This year’s games will feature four sports: volleyball, track and field, aquatics and powerlifting. Volleyball begins Friday followed by aquatics and powerlifting on Saturday, all at MizzouRec. Track and field events take place Saturday and Sunday at Rock Bridge High School. Here is the full schedule of events and locations.

Special Olympics, special partnership

The partnership established three years ago allows SOMO to tap into the statewide reach of MU, MU Health Care and the UM System. Eventually, the relationship could include collaboration across the universities in areas such as business, medicine, education, social work and human development and family sciences. MU, as well as the other UM System universities have deep ties to Special Olympics Missouri.

Rita Houg, assistant director of housing operations and conferences in MU’s Division of Student Affairs, said this year’s athletes are especially excited for their stay on campus because of the Summer Games’ long-awaited return.

“The athletes enjoy staying in the residence hall and having a chance to be together,” Houg said. “We will have staff on duty to help make sure the athletes and their coaches have a wonderful experience.”

Andrew Kauffman, marketing and communications director for Special Olympics Missouri, said Mizzou’s central location and exceptional facilities make it a great venue for the Games.

“Actually, for any athlete in the state of Missouri, getting the chance to compete at the University of Missouri is exciting,” he said. “It’s the perfect way to utilize our partnership.”

Peggy Llewellyn-Neff and Florica Gault

Peggy Llewellyn-Neff (right) and tennis doubles partner Florica Gault.

Hooked on volunteering

Peggy Llewellyn-Neff, a retired special education teacher in Boonville who works part time with event staff at Mizzou Arena, has been volunteering with SOMO for nearly three decades. This year, she is playing unified doubles tennis, which means she will be paired with a Special Olympics athlete. Together, they will compete against other unified teams.

“It’s a wonderful experience for both athletes,” she said.

Over the years, Llewellyn-Neff has watched the games grow to be more than a sporting event, but also an opportunity for athletes to receive free health screenings and health education in a fun, welcoming environment.

“Participants want to be seen as well-trained athletes,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see them take pride in their sport and be competitive.”

Though she has been volunteering for years, Llewellyn-Neff said each Games is a new experience.

“It never gets old to me,” she said. “The quality of the competition is just amazing. Once you’ve experienced Special Olympics, you’ll be hooked.”

There is still time to help with the Games. Go to the Special Olympics Missouri volunteer hub to sign up.


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