Monday, September 29, 2008

Special Olympics Team Cultivates Goodwill At Grape Jamboree

Special for Gazette Newspapers

GENEVA – Visitors to the 45th annual Geneva Grape JAMboree might have expected to see this familiar purple fruit displayed in all sorts of festive forms over the weekend. And there was plenty of ‘grapey goodness’ to be had everywhere, in ice cream, pies, juice cocktails, and local wines. But those enjoying the attractions at Broadway and Main received something extra with their fruited delights – a dose of goodwill, thanks to the Ashtabula County Special Olympics.

Athletes from the ‘Lakers’ softball team were on hand to celebrate their Division III State Title, won after a lengthy season of dramatic competition and sheer endurance. It was the first time they had taken the crown in their twenty-four year history.

Bill Jenner, a Coordinator of the ACSO, said it once again demonstrated how a positive attitude can open doors to success.

“This championship is all about what the athletes can do, not what they can’t do,” he observed. “All of the athletes worked very hard for this, and we are proud of them.”

Instrumental in supporting the team throughout their season was Truckers Helping Hands, a group organized to provide assistance of all kinds to the handicapped athletes. Scott Carlson, a long-term member of the organization, said that the effort has exceeded even his own expectations.

“We started with a few trucks, and an idea,” he recalled. “But it kept growing with each year. It has been incredible!”

Originally, Truckers Helping Hands was propelled by the lively presence of Rush ‘Boss Hog’ Starcher, an individualistic soul who believed that the professional drivers should be ambitious in their charitable activities. He encouraged the collective to think on a grand scale that matched the girth of their freight-hauling vehicles.

The result was an expanded slate of events that included appearances at Speedco, and the Ashtabula County Fair.

While Starcher passed away before seeing the ACSO softball team win their title, his legacy was in evidence, throughout the Grape JAMboree celebration.

There was goodwill by the gallon, and smiles to spare.

The JAMboree parades included clowns, vintage automobiles, local officials, marching bands, and even Chief Meteorologist Jeff Tanchak of WOIO Channel 19. Yet the oversized, rolling displays seemed to be most impressive for those who attended.

Sabo’s Woodside Nursery of Madison donated flowers for the Special Olympics float, which was a long, colorful platform topped by trophies from the summer athletic season. In a procession of trucks that stretched to the horizon, members of the ‘Lakers’ softball team eagerly thanked the community for their support, with shouts and whistles of good cheer. At street level, a band of ‘Olympic Angels’ passed out candy and fliers.

It was a mobile presentation like no other.

A variety of public safety forces participated in the benefit Special Olympics Fire Truck Pull, including Fire Department teams from Geneva, Saybrook, Troy, Harpersfield, and the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department Corrections Team.

Troy Township bested their competitors in the event, with a timed tug of 8.53 seconds, over a twelve-foot distance. But the ACSO team demonstrated an unstoppable ability to win the hearts and minds of those in attendance.

William Griswold, a stout member of the bunch, described his technique as being simple, but effective.

“I grab the rope like this,” he said, gesturing powerfully, like a medal-winning grappler. “And then, I PULL!”

Ever present in the crowd was Mike Adley, owner of Mouse and Double-Click Productions of Ashtabula. As a professional photographer and volunteer, Adley has been instrumental in helping the ACSO team reach their goal of personal development.

“I’ll do anything for these guys,” he remarked. “They deserve our support.”

A post-JAMboree banquet was held on Saturday evening, at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Austinburg. Staff and managers from the Country Market Restaurant offered a warm reception for everyone who participated. Coordinators Bill Jenner and Pat Whitten officiated at the feast.

It was a celebration that capped the 2008 campaign. And, the Grape JAMboree.

“We’re all family here,” Whitten proclaimed.

The athletes and truckers were quick to agree.

Afterward, the Lakers were eager to express their appreciation to the professional drivers. During a final round of photographs, the moment arrived to express their heartfelt gratitude.

A silent pause descended on the room in Austinburg. And then came a cheer.

“One-two-three-four… THANK YOU!” they shouted in unison.

The ACSO team had proved to be champions, in every sense of the word.

The ACSO Softball Lakers became Division III State Champions for the first time in their history.

The Ashtabula County Special Olympics athletes celebrated with Troy Township’s Fire Department after the Fire Truck Pull on Saturday.

From left: Bill (Ashtabula County Special Olympics Coordinator) and Chevy (Truckers Helping Hands driver) were in a lighthearted mood at the Grape JAMboree.


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