By Steve Robinson | June 17, 2007 - 8:52 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

Special OlympicsNORMAL – From the first time it came into being nearly two decades ago, the Powerlifting competition at the Special Olympics Illinois State Games had contestants and spectators jammed into one of two ends of 45-year-old Horton Field House.

In doing so, contestants and spectators alike contended with reverberating noise, heat, and crammed conditions.

But as of last Friday, those circumstances are a thing of the past, as the competition moves this year to the comforts of Stroud Auditorium at University High School, an air-conditioned, 900-seat facility, complete with a stage and sound system.

U-High is just one block north of Horton Field House.

“(The move) was inspired by (being at) Special Olympics National Games (last July),” explained Katie Herriott, area director for Area 6 Heartland Special Olympics, which includes Pekin, along with Tazewell, Mason, and McLean Counties.

Special Olympics’ National Games were held on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa last July. The Powerlifting competition took place in an auditorium setting there, prompting this first try at Stroud Auditorium.

“We’re going to try to copy (what we saw at National Games),” Herriott said. “We’re going to try to copy (that model) a little bit, to make it bigger and better.

“Moving it will give them their own stage, there will be screens (to see results). I was there a couple of days ago,” Herriott said. “It looked really nice. It will be a good set-up.”

Julie Smith, director of sports and competition for SOI, added that it was not just National Games, but seeing how Powerlifting was handled at World Games events conducted by Special Olympics, and hoping such a change would work if used at State Games.

Smith said she was able to make contact with those in charge of organizing the Powerlifting set-up at last year’s National Games, and got plenty of counsel as to how to proceed with the change.

“With all of our events, we are always looking to find ways to improve the quality of the event,” Smith said. “The most important thing in our minds is the opportunity that the athletes have and the quality of that opportunity.

“Anytime we have the chance to make a competition or a venue better, we’re going to do that,” Smith said.

Friday, female contestants in both the bench press and powerlifting competition got to try the new digs first.

On Saturday, the two-man tandem in Bill Hopkins and Aaron Schaumleffel, both Pekin, along with head coach Larry Needham, will got their chance to experience the new surroundings.

And they made the most of the new opportunity, beginning with the bench press competition, in which Schaumleffel scored on weights of 140 and 155 pounds but could not press 160 pounds. But having already beat his previous best of 130 pounds, earning a bronze medal did not bother him.

“I think the change, coming (to Stroud Auditorium) gives competitors the feel of what it’s like at (Special Olympics’) International Games or World Games,” said Larry Needham, head coach of the Powerlifting team for Tri-County Independents.

When it came to deadlifting, Schaumleffel was able to earn a gold medal as roughly 300 people sat in the auditorium clapping and cheering. He lifted weights of 280 and 330 pounds on his first two tries, and equaled a personal best of 340 pounds on his last try, thus earning a gold medal there, as well.

Hopkins pressed weights of 225, 240, and 255 pounds, earning a gold medal. And although he has a previous personal best of deadlifting 500 pounds, on Saturday, he managed to deadlift weights of 300 and 350 pounds, before failing to hoist 400 pounds. He also came away with a gold medal in his division.

To get to State, Hopkins dead-lifted 300 pounds, while Schaumleffel dead-lifted 40 pounds more than that in an Area competition.

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