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Special Olympics holding awards banquet today

Dickinson's Special Olympics team went through soccer drills on Tuesday, despite the excessive heat. The team was practicing for the upcoming state unified soccer and bocce games Sept. 15-16 at Grand Forks.

Dedication to the sport will be rewarded with the annual Region 12 Special Olympics awards banquet set today at the Eagles Club.

"It's to give thanks to the volunteers, businesses and organizations who support Special Olympics," Area 12 director Ken Stockert said.

The social gets under way at 5 p.m., followed by dinner and a dance.

The banquet is a highlight for Special Olympics athletes and partners from southwestern North Dakota. Approximately 150 athletes, their families and volunteers are expected to attend, Stockert said.

Stockert was introduced to Special Olympics when he worked at a bowling alley.

"I knew the athletes who came every Saturday to bowl," Stockert said. "I was asked to coach basketball and it took off from there. It's that smile that keeps you coming back."

Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition to more than 4 million athletes in 170 countries. Special Olympics sports are open to anyone with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older, Stockert said.

"It's all by word of mouth," he said.

Ryan Kilwein, who volunteers as a partner for soccer, said the team could use more players.

"It's fun and it's good exercise," he said.

Soccer coach Kyle Adolf has been coaching on and off for about 14 years. He took two soccer teams to a Bismarck tournament last weekend, and they both took second place.

Stockert encourages parents to check out the program for their children.

"Sometimes parents aren't sure what Special Olympics is about," he said.

A big part is the socialization.

"We definitely see a change in the athletes -- athletes who go on to live on their own," Stockert said. "There's the physical fitness part of it. People don't judge on how you finish. You're participating and having fun while gaining self-esteem."

Stockert also invites youth and adults to help as partners in the unified sports. Those sports include team handball, volleyball and soccer.

Fundraising is an ongoing activity for anyone interested in helping behind the scenes.

An Area 12 Zombie 5K walk/run fundraiser for Special Olympics is planned Oct. 18. This event kicks off at 6 p.m. at Biesiot Activities Center. Zombies will be permitted to jump out or walk/run beside participants. A "safe zone" with hot chocolate is planned midway through the course.

Sponsorships and participants are asked to contact Tim Hamburger at 701-690-6306 for more information.

For more information about Special Olympics, call Stockert at 701-290-8840.