Three Austin residents set to compete in Special Olympics National Games

Published 8:36 pm Thursday, July 15, 2010

In a matter of days, three Austin athletes will join around 3,000 competitors at the 2010 Special Olympics National Games in Lincoln, Neb.

Softball players Lonnie Wiborg, Jeremy Johnson, and Shaun Olson will be heading to Lincoln soon to compete for Team Minnesota in the national games, which begin this Saturday and run until next Saturday.

They are the first Austin qualifiers for the national games, which are held every four years, in at least a decade and they earned their spots on the Minnesota softball team by competing in tryouts in Stillwater, Minn.

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“The tryout was different and it was kind of like going out for the Twins,” Olson, who has played softball for at least 10 years, said. “(Getting ready for the tournament) has been about having fun and having time with the guys as a team. We’d like to come home with the gold.”

Wiborg has played on the Mower County softball team for at least 10 years and he’s hoping for a strong showing at nationals.

“We want to play our best and be winners,” Wiborg said. “I like getting to know everybody (through softball) and meeting new people. My parents also come down and support us.”

While the three are glad to be representing Minnesota at the games, Johnson, who has also played for 10 years, is also curious to see what kind of players come from some other areas.

“I’m looking forward to playing against different teams from different states,” he said.

According to Kathy Huffman, Chairman of the Arc of Mower County Board, the three players were contacted to tryout for the national games because they play on the Mower County team that is usually playing in the Region and State softball tournaments. The team took gold at state in its division a couple of years ago.

“They really take pride in playing well,” Huffman said. “It’s huge for these guys.”

While preparing for the games, Olson, Johnson and Wiborg have been practicing up in Lakeville with their new teammates. The team also came to Austin one day, practiced in Todd Park and they stayed in Austin that night.

Huffman just wishes that some other teams would make the trip to Todd Park over the summer. While the Mower County team plays against squads from other areas in the Regions and State tournaments, they spend the whole summer practicing with their own squad of 22 players.

“It would be nice to get another team here. These guys get sick of each other every Thursday night,” Huffman said.

But for now, the three national qualifiers are focused on having a good showing at the highest level and Huffman thinks they’ll have a great time.

“The Special Olympics are really fun and every team gets some sort of recognition, so they’ll come away feeling good,” she said.

The Mower County softball team will compete in the Regional Tournament in Faribault July 25 and the state tournament is Aug. 21-22 in the Blaine Sports Complex.