DECATUR — When you’re hot, you’re hot, and Special Olympics athlete Curtis Leonard was smokin’ on the softball field Sunday afternoon.
He managed five home runs that included two grand slams and a double to power his Clinton County Cats team to victory in the softball final of the Special Olympics Illinois Outdoor Sports Festival.
“It feels really good to win,” said Leonard, 35, as he and his 13-strong team showed off gold medals that flashed like beacons in the fall sunshine at Decatur’s Rotary Park. Asked why his team won, Leonard didn’t hesitate to knock modesty out of the park: “Because I’m a good hitter,” he said.
The Clinton County Cats (their home base is near Carlyle in Southern Illinois) were among more than 600 athletes who qualified to take part in the two-day outdoor festival, the highlight of the Special Olympics sporting year. T-ball, softball and golf events, both team and individual skills, were divided between Rotary Park and the Hickory Point Golf Course in Forsyth. And the festival had begun with opening ceremonies in Central Park on Saturday, followed by the athletes marching to the Civic Center, where they enjoyed dinner and an evening of dancing.
Decatur has hosted the outdoor sports festival for several years, and the Special Olympics athletes and their families and coaches are happy to see it stay that way. “I tell you what, this Rotary Park is a beautiful facility,” said Marian Albers, the Clinton County Cats scorekeeper. “And we can’t say enough about Millikin University and their softball team; they are here every year helping out and their cheerleaders perform and their dance team performs. It’s great.”
Her husband, Jerry Albers, is the team coach and says the warmth of the Decatur welcome makes the trip an anticipated pleasure. “Wherever you go, stores, anywhere, everybody is so friendly,” he added. “We enjoy being here.”
Carolyn Klocek, the central regional manager of sports training for Special Olympics Illinois, says Decatur comes up with a vast bank of volunteers such as those Millikin students who make the whole event run smoothly. “Your mayor spoke at our opening ceremonies and everyone really embraces us here,” she said. “The Decatur community is awesome.”