Special Olympics golfers compete at Randall Oaks

Tim Pape of Yorkville practices putting before heading onto the course. Like most golfers, Pape said his putts could use a little improvement.  |  Suzanne Baker ~  Sun-Times Media
Tim Pape of Yorkville practices putting before heading onto the course. Like most golfers, Pape said his putts could use a little improvement. | Suzanne Baker ~ Sun-Times Media

WEST DUNDEE — Driving the ball over the marsh onto the green on the sixth hole proved much trickier compared to dodging the swans and signet that opted to take a stroll onto the fairway as golfers putted on the ninth green.

Thirty-four athletes and their unified partners from all over Northern Illinois competed Monday in the annual Special Olympics Unified Golf Competition at the Randall Oaks Golf Club in West Dundee. The top six pairs qualified for the state competition in September.

Unified Sports combine equal numbers of Special Olympics and non-Special Olympics athletes of similar age or ability on teams that compete against other Unified teams. The goal is to expand sports opportunities for athletes seeking new challenges and increase integration in the community.

This is the second year Special Olympics has hosted the nine-hole tournament at the Dundee Park District course.

As temperatures rose into the 80s, a strong breeze managed to provide natural air conditioning for athletes. Jordan Feldman, Area 18 director for Special Olympics, said ensuring the safety of all who golfed was a priority, and his group was closely monitoring the temperature.

All the golfers kept hydrated at water stations located throughout the course as a handful of the 50 volunteers carted bottles of water periodically throughout the day, he said.

Benjamin Brizzolara of St. Charles, who has been playing golf for more than 20 years, enjoys the camaraderie he gets on the golf course. Even before the duo tee off, Brizzolara and golfing partner Rich Chimielewski joke about everything from who is better looking to was going to have a lower score.

Brizzolara was one of three athletes representing Fox Valley Special Recreation Association along with athletes Steven Mastel of Batavia and Michelle Thompson of Geneva.

For Richard LaCoco of Yorkville, the Unified Golf competition was the first time he ever golfed on a course. Even before he was finished, he was looking forward to competing again next year.

LaCoco was one of five athletes sent by Kendall County Special Olympics (KCSO).

Deb Clausen, who serves on the board of the KCSO, said this is the first year the group embarked into Unified Sports. Her son, Matthew, went through the training to become a certified unified partner and brought back that knowledge to KCSO.

So far the response to golf has been positive. “The parents were very excited,” Clausen said.

Parents of KCSO athletes either golfed as partner athletes or walked the course to watch their adult children play.

Clausen said the organization limited the number of athletes to five this first year as they test the waters. She added she’s hopeful the organization can expand to include athletes in the future.

Matthew Ruegsegger of Montgomery has been golfing since he was 5 years old. At that time his grandfather cut down some of his golf clubs and irons to fit the young boy. Ruegsegger was hooked and competed with KCSO.

KSCO teammates Kiley Baker and Tim Pape, both of Yorkville, said they like golf because it is relaxing.

Baker admits she is a quiet person, which is why she likes golf so much. “I don’t have to talk much,” she said.

One of the youngest athletes was 14-year-old Nicole Fisher of Oswego, who also represented KCSO.

Like most of the athletes participating, Fisher said her long game is much better than her short game.

“I like to drive better,” she said.

Fisher, who has been playing for about a year, plans to try out for the girls golf team at Oswego High School next month.

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