Special Olympics softball
Steamboat team heads to regional Special Olympics tournament.
Steamboat Springs Tim McClenathan hadn't pitched a game since he was a 14-year-old Little Leaguer growing up in Granby.
McClenathan, 30, has been brushing up on his skills recently. He's learned the finer points of the underhand softball delivery.
Fortunately, McClenathan had the help of Chris Kuxhaus, who coached McClenathan and nine other developmentally disabled adults (ages 16 and older) for six weeks of practice in preparation for a 10-team Special Olympics Colorado regional softball tournament that took place Wednesday in Grand Junction.
"This guy is a good coach," McClenathan said about Kuxhaus. "He really helped me with my pitch, showing me what to aim for."
McClenathan could hardly contain his enthusiasm Wednesday when the team met at Whistler Park before departing in a SUV convoy bound for Grand Junction.
Many of the Routt County Pirates already had their teal game jerseys on, exchanging impromptu high-fives and Gatorade bottle toasts.
When asked how he thought the Pirates would fare, third baseman Scott Bjorgum had a response that spoke to the team's collective level of excitement to hit the road and play together: "I don't know - it doesn't matter," he said with a grin.
Kuxhaus, a 22-year volunteer coach who hopes to pursue a career in special needs teaching, said he had seen drastic improvements during the course of the Pirates' eight practice sessions.
"Everyone, every week is excited to get out there - it's a blast," Kuxhaus said. "We've done a couple of scrimmages, working on ground balls and fly balls, and the hitting has been tremendous. At the first practices, only about half of them could hit, and now they can all really hit the ball."
"I had one grand slam and a homer in practice," McClenathan noted.
Team organizer Leslie Bjorgum and Mike Dwire, a vocational specialist from Horizons Specialized Services (who works with all but two of the 10 team members), said this is the first Routt County softball team fielded for the tournament.
For McClenathan, being the man on the mound would be particularly special because he got to play in front of his mother, who lives near the Grand Junction field. Plus, he knows he's "got a good team" for support.
"We need to have teamwork and keep our heads in the game - if we keep focused, that will help," McClenathan said.
And as the team boarded the SUVs, McClenathan noted the pressure of competition was already rising: "I'm nervous," he said.
Fortunately, McClenathan had a pre-game ace up his sleeve - the game-day music mix on his MP3 player.
"Mostly country, with a little Def Leppard," he said.