Southeast Summer Classic set for Special Olympics

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On July 31, Special Olympics of Colorado will hold its Southeast Summer Classic in Memorial Park. The Raytheon Co., a defense and aerospace systems supplier, is set to sponsor the event. “This sounds like a great thing for Raytheon to get behind and support,” said William Seffers of Raytheon. Seffers is the business development manager for integrative defense systems of Raytheon Company in Colorado Springs.

According to Seffers, who has been with Raytheon for eight years, the Special Olympics is the first significant charitable event Raytheon’s Colorado Springs office has participated in and sponsored during his time with the company. “We’re not very well-known around Colorado Springs,” he said.

Seffers contacted Ashley Collier, the program manager for the Southeast region of Special Olympics Colorado, after visiting the organization’s Web site.

“We were actually very fortunate to get a sponsorship from Raytheon,” Collier said. “We love ‘em.” Collier said it is rather difficult to secure funding and sponsorships for the Special Olympics because of the number of non-profit organizations in the country. Collier said Colorado is one of the few states in the nation that does not charge athletes to participate in events.

Special Olympics Colorado receives no federal or state funding, Collier said. All coaches, score keepers, umpires, medical personnel and line judges work on a volunteer basis. And event sponsors are always invited to volunteer. “Raytheon is coming out with a planning committee and volunteers,” Collier said. “We want to show them the value of their support.”

Seffers has made plans to bring Raytheon employees from Denver and the home office in Massachusetts to the Southeast Summer Classic. “We may have as many as 20-30 Raytheon employees at the games to help the coaches and people running the events,” Seffers said. “When I started talking about Special Olympics the general response was ‘how can I sign up?'”

Seffers said, Raytheon will donate $13,000 to $15,000 to help with the Southeast Summer Classic. That donation includes a $5,000 entry fee for what Seffers called “top billing” and about $7,000 in giveaways such as baseball caps and commemorative souvenirs.

“We’ll have over 450 athletes alone competing in this event,” Collier said. Special Olympics athletes will compete in tennis, cycling, softball and bocce – an Italian lawn bowling game. All Special Olympics Colorado programs are free for athletes, and they are given eight weeks to train for their events.

Special Olympics Colorado started in 1969, and 400 athletes competed in a one-day track and field event at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Collier said. Today, there are about 90 competitions statewide and about 9,000 Special Olympics athletes in Colorado. One thousand compete in the Southeast region, which includes the cities of Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Alamosa, Walsenburg, Rye, La Junta and Buena Vista.

“If you go to a Special Olympics event, you’ll be hooked,” Collier said. “There is lots of pomp and circumstance.” While athletes, coaches and community members have enjoyed the festivities for many years, Collier pointed out that Special Olympics events are not all about fun and games. “Our events are planned like most Olympic events are planned, Collier said. “We don’t just show up and have a fun day.”

The opening ceremonies at Special Olympics events include a torch run. Collier compared the ceremonies to those of the international Olympic Games. “All of our award ceremonies are very formal,” Collier said. She has noticed that most athletes value the spirit of competition and personal success more than a ribbon.

Seffers said he would like Raytheon to continue to support Special Olympics, but he also wants the Colorado Springs office to show its support for other community organizations. “After this event is complete and we realize the potential of Raytheon to become involved in the community, we’ll look at the other activities that we can support and participate in,” Seffers said.

Special Olympics Colorado is still in search of a company to donate lunch services for the Southeast Summer Classic. “We’re looking at feeding 650 people,” Collier said. The lunch donor’s company logo will be included on event T-shirts, banners and on the main tent. “We’ll definitely let the whole world know who provided lunch,” Collier said. Any company interested in donating lunch services should call Collier at (719)574-8480.

- Stephanie.Cline@csbj.com