Strong volunteer turnout for Special Olympics tournament

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kathleen Ice
  • 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The base gym was loud with shouts, clapping and "oohs" during the Special Olympics North Dakota's regional basketball tournament Saturday.

More than 80 base volunteers made it possible for six Special Olympics teams to play, said Patty Pretzer, the Special Olympics' regional director.

"The relationship between us and the Air Force Base is awesome," Pretzer said.  "It's key, because it's hard for us to find volunteers."

Senior Airman William Archinal, a volunteer assigned to the 5th Munitions Squadron, spends much of his free time recruiting and managing coaches and preparing his own young teams to play a variety of sports throughout the year, practicing twice a week for tournaments.

"The kids absolutely love him," said Pretzer, who has been with the Special Olympics for more than 20 years.

She said it's difficult to find someone so dedicated who goes out of his way both for the organization and the athletes he mentors.

"We're wishing we had a daughter," joked Juell Brabandt, the district director who was sitting next to Pretzer.

On the basketball court sidelines, Archinal's team huddled together and layered their hands: "One, two, three, teamwork!"

Next door, a heated contest among more experienced athletes neared its final score at 58-14.

Winning is the best part of the game, said Lenny Landaker, who turns 60 next month and has been playing in the Special Olympics for more than 20 years.

The organization's creed is "Please help me win, but if I cannot, let me be brave in the attempt."

Courage was everywhere at the tournament, whether in the form of tenacious rebounds, unwavering kindness or unhesitant three-point shots.

"I saw this one guy do a no-look pass to someone behind him, and I was like, 'What the... I can't even do that!  That's not cool," said 1st Lt. Cody Gibson, 5th Logistics Squadron material management flight commander. 

Regardless of wins and losses from the regional tournament, all will get a chance to participate in the Special Olympics North Dakota state tournament at Minot State University's dome March 13-14, Pretzer said.

Several hundred base volunteers have already signed up for the state tourney, said Janet Wing, the lead base volunteer coordinator who works as the unit deployment monitor at 5th LRS.  Wing, A retired B-52 mechanic, has also volunteered for Special Olympics for more than 20 years.

"No matter how many volunteers we need, we usually end up with almost double," Wing said.  

With such a fun, enthusiastic atmosphere, one could hardly blame Airmen for wanting to take part, said Lt. Col. Brad Buckman, Deputy Commander of the 5th Misison Support Group who gave remarks during the opening ceremony.

"This to me is just a great outlet and opportunity for our Airmen to get involved with the community," he said.