SIOUX CITY — The Sioux City Knights left the Iowa State Special Olympics Softball Tournament with smiles, laughter and three championships to boot.
The Knights won three divisional titles at the softball tournament in Ankeny, Iowa, and all in pretty decisive fashion.
The Division 3A traditional team won its first game 18-0 over the Cedar Rapids 3 team, and beat the Boone Bulls 10-7 in the championship game.
The Division 4B traditional team beat Clinton County 9-3 in the first round, then defeated Mason City 7-3 in the championship game.
The Unified team had a close win in the first round. The Knights edged the Ames Thunder 14-13 on a Zack Rose single in the bottom of the final inning for the win, and won 13-6 over the Ames Lightning in the championship game.
“We are very proud,” said Troy Betsworth, delegation spokesperson with the Knights. “I don’t know if anybody else can claim that they have three state championships in one year.”
A unified team is an equal combination of athletes with special needs, and partners, which are those who do not have special needs. In terms of softball, there are six players and six partners on the roster.
For example, a mother swam with her daughter on the unified swimming team, and a father-brother combination played with their daughter on the unified softball squad.
“We’ve got a big push statewide for unified sports, and it’s a neat thing,” Betsworth said.
The three softball wins are added to a very successful year by the Knights.
They’ve had athletes go into the Special Olympics Hall of Fame, had a female athlete of the year and Sue Davis earned volunteer of the year.
In the spring, The Knights were well represented at the Drake Relays. Sioux City had two teams in the mixed 4x100 meter relay and the Knights went fourth and eighth in the relay.
Sioux City was the only Iowa city to have two teams in the same relay.
“I think it’s important to have the athletes involved year-round,” Betsworth said. “They take pride in their athletic prowess. It keeps them from sitting at home all day playing video games. This may sound cliche, but the athletes enjoy coming to practice and being around their peer group.
“Their adrenaline flows just like everyone else,” Betsworth added. “That’s really neat to see.”
The athletes won’t have much downtime heading into the fall season. Betsworth said that bowling practice as well as flag-football practice will start in the next week and there are nearly 100 athletes interested in participating in bowling.
So, what’s the key to all the success and interest? According to Betsworth, it’s the people behind the scenes.
“The true backbone to our delegations is our volunteers, staff, parents and caregivers,” Betsworth said. “The dedication with those people is what stirs the drink.”
There are parents in the program who coach sports whose kids aren’t even on said team. There are parents who get emotional overseeing someone else’s athlete make a big play.
“That’s what truly makes it worthwhile,” Betsworth said.
The Sioux City Knights have been around for seven years and in that time, the program has gone from a seven-person program to 180 athletes in the Special Olympics chapter. Year round, the Knights offer 15 sports at no cost to the athletes’ families.