THE DALLES — As the high-school baseball and softball seasons wind down, another group of local ballplayers is just getting started.
The Mid Columbia Special Olympics chapter began softball practice one month ago, and with every week that passes, the turnouts have continued to grow like blossoms on a tree.
“I am really happy to finally have a team together, and see all these athletes excited,” head coach Marcie Logan said of the 14-person contingent that practices twice a week in The Dalles. “The commitment they have for it is really amazing.”
Male and female athletes of all ages from all over the Gorge have been turning out at Dry Hollow Park and 16th Street Ballpark Thursdays and Sundays to prepare for the June 29 sectional tournament in Hillsboro. The team will then compete at the state tournament in Eugene July 26-28.
“State is definitely the better of the two tournaments,” said coach/athlete Jay Johnston of Hood River. “It’s nice that we have so many people out this year because we didn’t have enough for a team last year.”
Johnston is the team’s pitcher and one of its most accomplished hitters, along with Donny Love and Willy Junker, and will help guide a much-improved lineup that includes Hood River residents Eric Foxley, Meredith Mitchell, Katie Tager and Mariah Langer.
Also adding pop to the offense and consistency to the defense will be JJ Petty, Matthew Hodges, Carmen Skulstad, Kelly Stephens, Rusty Hubbard and Brad Divish, the team’s high-energy catcher.
“I love how the athletes encourage and support each other,” Logan said. “We are all looking forward to competing at regionals with a chance at going to state in July.”
Logan and a group of four assistants have been organizing practices and transportation for the athletes since early April. In that time, the group has grown from about five to the current list of 14.
The team ordered new uniforms this week and hopes to have them in time for the sectional tournament. Doug’s Sports in Hood River has volunteered to help pay for T-shirts, shorts and ball caps for each of the athletes and coaches.
“Talk about a nice gesture,” said Special Olympics coordinator Carole Schmidt. “The support from the community is what makes things like this happen.”