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Rec Sports Spotlight: Tigers complete a Special season

Carroll County Special Olympics Softball team recently went to Witicha, Kansas this past week and competed with over 30 teams from across the US and Canada, at the Special Olympics North America Softball Championship. The Tigers won a silver medal in the Western Division. The "Unified" team is made up of both Special Olympics athletes and their partners. Pictured right to left: Ryan Chernock, James Fanwell, Daniel Graham, Derek Hamburg, Lucas Lichtenberg, Mary Linthicum, Peter Linthicum, Brendan Rost, Todd Rost, Ryan Whittaker, Amanda Zier. Not pictured: coach Kerri Dean.
Carroll County Special Olympics Softball team recently went to Witicha, Kansas this past week and competed with over 30 teams from across the US and Canada, at the Special Olympics North America Softball Championship. The Tigers won a silver medal in the Western Division. The "Unified" team is made up of both Special Olympics athletes and their partners. Pictured right to left: Ryan Chernock, James Fanwell, Daniel Graham, Derek Hamburg, Lucas Lichtenberg, Mary Linthicum, Peter Linthicum, Brendan Rost, Todd Rost, Ryan Whittaker, Amanda Zier. Not pictured: coach Kerri Dean. (Submitted photo)

When Kerri Dean moved to Carroll County, she wanted to coach softball as a volunteer for Maryland Special Olympics. It didn't take her long to find a job.

It just so happened that the Carroll County Tigers Special Olympics softball team had recently lost its head coach and needed a replacement. Dean, who coached Special Olympics softball in Montgomery County, neatly filled the bill.

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So, she took that job and guided the Tigers to a state softball championship. And a few weeks ago, she nearly won a national title.

Not surprisingly, the resident of Westminster wants to run the team again next year.

Dean had taught softball fundamentals to handicapped athletes in Montgomery before moving to Carroll. She felt she'd been lucky to find the perfect job virtually waiting for her when she moved here. The Tigers had been in operation for three years and were an established operation.

But as she awaited her team's first practice, she grew apprehensive.

"I was really nervous about it. But the people were all warm, and they made me feel like I was part of the family," Dean recalled.

Her Special Olympics athletes have a variety of intellectual and physical disabilities. However, she wanted the players to make the most of their abilities and to enjoy themselves doing it.

"My goal for the athletes is to make sure they have fun. So I didn't put somebody with a slow reaction time in the infield where they could get hurt. They have ups and downs, but we try to pump each other up and make sure each effort in congratulated," she explained.

Things were made easier by the fact that all but one of her players had played softball before. The only exception was Derek Hamburg, who had originally come from Russia at the age of 3. While he had never played softball, he was heavily involved in other Special Olympics sports and activities. Hamburg quickly learned the game of softball and became a team spark plug.

The Tigers are a unified team. A unified team features the Special Olympics athletes themselves along with coaches who also play some of the positions on the field. They help the athletes by telling them what to do on fielding plays and also by giving them pointers when they bat. The Tigers usually had five players with special needs on the field at a time.

Special Olympics slow-pitch softball is co-ed. However Dean noted that, when they went to the national tournament, the Tigers were the only team with a female player. She was pitcher Mary Linthicum.

Linthicum did a good job, too. She would pitch every inning at the nationals.

But first the Tigers wanted to do well at the Special Olympics-sponsored state softball tournament. This 45th annual event was held at Towson University in August. The Tigers took first place there.

Possibly due to that success, they received a berth at the Special Olympics North America's National Invitational Tournament in Kansas City, in late September.

While expenses at the tournament are paid, the teams had to raise the money to fly there and back. Through a variety of donations by business and individual contributors some $2,600 was raised. The Tigers also received a matching grant from Maryland Special Olympics.

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And finally, Roy Rogers of Westminster hosted an August fund-raiser which netted a few hundred dollars more. Overall, the group raised about $5,000.

However, things didn't start so well at Kansas City as the Kansas Bulldogs thumped the Tigers, 18-11. Linthicum scored two runs for the Tigers in a losing cause. Brendon Rost, the lead-off hitter, got a hit on his first at-bat in the first inning but then hurt his wrist. He nevertheless played every game thereafter, despite the injury.

The Carroll County squad recovered to win game two, 10-6 over the Arizona Bandits. Hamburg had three hits and a run. Rost scored a run. Linthicum, despite being hit be a batted ball, hung in to pitch the whole game.

This completed the Pool Play phase of the tournament.

In the first game of the Medal Round, the Tigers scored eight runs in the second inning and went on to top the Bandits, 12-8. Daniel Graham had three hits for the winners. He also scored two runs.

In the second Medal Round game, things didn't work out so well. In a final score similar to game one, the Bulldogs topped the Tigers, 17-11. James Franwell, in his first year with the Tigers, continued the hot hitting that would give him a 6-for-12 performance in the four games. But it wasn't enough.

"We got the silver medal to bring home, but some of the players were disappointed they weren't getting the gold. I told them that some people can't do this at all. I complimented them for getting up and doing it. At the end of the day we had a good time, and that was enough of a win for me," Dean said.

She plans to come back next year and hopes more players will come out for the team.

"I'm ready to go back next year and try to win that gold medal," Dean said.

And the Carroll County Tigers shouldn't have to raise so much traveling money, either. The nationals will be played in nearby York.

To learn more about the Tigers, visit the Carroll County Special Olympics website.

410-857-7896

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