Local sports fans with heart will get a rare opportunity this weekend to watch approximately 600 softball players on 28 teams from 16 states and Canada compete in the 2011 Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Tournament in Elgin.
On Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27 and 28, spectators are invited to cheer on adult softball teams from around the country, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Virginia and other states, who have been invited to compete in this annual event, which is free and open to the public.
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If you goWhat: Special Olympics National Softball Tournament, featuring 28 teams from around the country, five of which are from Illinois
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28
Where: Elgin Sports Complex, 709 Sports Way
Extra: There will be a torch lighting ceremony during halftime of the Mooseheart vs. Alden-Hebron football game, scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at Mooseheart stadium, on Mooseheart Road just west of Route 31.
More information: Visit ilso.org
From our own area, the Thunder team from Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association in Crystal Lake is competing. The Thunder is NISRA's highest level of four Special Olympics softball teams.
"This is the first time something like this is taking place in Illinois," said Dave Dauphin, manager of Special Olympics and adapted sports at NISRA and one of the coaches for the Thunder.
"Last year's tournament in Nebraska was all summer sports, and only one all-star (softball) team went from Illinois. We get five teams from Illinois this year because it's here."
NISRA provides year-round recreation activities and local Special Olympics for residents with disabilities. The 13 players on the Thunder team reside in McHenry County and parts of Cook, Lake and Kane counties, all served by NISRA.
Also from Illinois will be four other participating Special Olympics teams: a Northwestern Special Recreation Association team from Rolling Meadows; the Free Spirits from Lake Zurich; the West Central All-Stars from Decatur and Jacksonville; and the Tri-County Independents from Peoria and Champaign.
Serious softball players ages 16 and older make up either male, female or coed teams. Each team can have 15 players and four coaches, and will be placed into tournament divisions based on playing ability.
The division round of games will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by competitive rounds from 1:30 to 6 p.m.
Sunday's games will begin with The Medal Round of competition from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. An awards ceremony will begin at 1 p.m., after the first games conclude.
Two special guests will also attend the Sunday games: Miss Illinois 2011 Hannah Smith and Elgin Mayor David Kaptain.
The tournament is supported by the city of Elgin and the Amateur Softball Association of America, and is being sponsored by Moose International.
"We have always been interested in the betterment of the lives of young people, said Kurt Wehrmeister, director of communications and public affairs for Moose International. "With our programs and our Mooseheart Campus, Special Olympics is a good fit. It inspires (students') lives, and we think it's a good fit for the Moose."
During the two days, games will be held on 10 softball fields at the Elgin Sports Complex in Elgin. Teams competing in the national tournament will use five fields, and softball teams from the Moose will use the adjacent five fields.
This is the first time Elgin is hosting the Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Tournament, but the Moose has been involved in past years, and travels to wherever the event is held, such as last year's tournament in Lincoln, Neb.
"The Moose organization wanted to draw it closer to the Moose campus (in Mooseheart). We had conversations with the folks from Special Olympics, and this year it's in Elgin," Wehrmeister said.
Mooseheart will host the tournament's trademark ceremonial torch lighting at Mooseheart's football stadium, during halftime of the Mooseheart vs. Alden-Hebron football game, scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. today, Aug. 26. The public is welcome, and this is also free for spectators.
Moose International and the Amateur Softball Association of America are both sponsors of this event.
Mooseheart will provide free food and lodging to every team and their coaches coming to Elgin for this tournament. The Elgin Sports Complex is at 709 Sports Way, Elgin, near Route 20 and McLean Boulevard.
Mooseheart's football stadium faces Route 31, between Main Street in Batavia and Oak Street in North Aurora. Parking is just west of Route 31 on Mooseheart Road.
Mooseheart Child City and School is a 1,000-acre community and school for children and teens in need of a secure home.
For more information about Special Olympics Illinois, visit ilso.org.