By Marty Denzer Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Let me Win! But if I Cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt! is the oath of Special Olympic athletes.
Jeff Minor will repeat that oath this summer as one of seven Missouri state athlete delegates for Special Olympics Team USA in the 2011 World Games, in Athens, Greece. Special Olympics, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is an international program that provides year-round athletic training, competition and related programs for than 3.5 million athletes with intellectual disabilities in more than 185 countries. The World Games will take place from June 25 to July 4, showcasing 7,500 athletes from 185 nations competing in 22 Olympic-type events. Team USA will be comprised of about 300 athletes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Missouri’s seven athlete delegates will compete in aquatics, bocce ball, golf and tennis. Jeff, 26, has been involved with Special Olympics since he was eight years old, playing both golf and basketball. He also takes pride in and enjoys his job at Taco Bell.
A basketball game night was hosted Jan. 22 by Holy Family Parish at St. Pius X High School to raise money to help cover the costs for Jeff, his parents and older brother to travel to the World Games.
Holy Family Youth Ministries Director Heather Neds said Jeff thoroughly enjoyed playing in basketball games organized by the youth group in past years. He contacted her several months ago wanting to know when they would play again. When she learned that he had won a spot on Team USA Special Olympics, Neds phoned Joe Monachino, principal of St. Pius X High School. She asked him if Holy Family Parish could borrow the high school’s gym for a basketball fundraiser for Jeff and the Minor family. “I wanted to focus on community building and celebrate people with special needs,” she said.
Monachino never hesitated. “Yes!” was the answer.
Friends and family members braved the threat of freezing rain and snow to either play or cheer. Jeff and several friends warmed up by shooting baskets, especially three pointers. Friendly smack talk and dares of “If I make this shot, you owe me lunch,” went back and forth. As the pre-game clock ticked down to zero, two teams of men, both young and not so young, formed. When the buzzer sounded, play began. Jeff played for the Home team and his father, Ed Minor, served as one of the referees.
During the half time break, Ed gave a short talk about Special Olympics and Jeff. A basket was passed for anyone caring to donate to help fund the trip to Greece. It costs about $5,000 to send an athlete delegate to the World Games. Donations help cover travel, food, housing, uniforms, training, equipment and other costs. Several months ago, Jeff’s family and friends started raising money for his trip to Greece, and as of mid-January, had reached $4,020 of the $5,000 goal.
Ed Minor said that when Jeff was a small boy, he would sit glued to the TV set on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, watching Tiger Woods play golf. “Jeff had a limited attention span, so it was amazing to see him so involved,” Minor said.
When Jeff was in second grade, he decided he wanted to play golf and began haunting the driving range near his home. The golf instructor, Mr. Whipple, told the boy that as long as he picked up balls that were left lying on the green, he could practice hitting them.
Whipple coached Jeff and taught him how to play golf, Ed Minor said. “He cut Jeff no slack. He was kind of like a grandpa, loving and caring, but cutting him no slack. It wasn’t long before we were spending a couple of hours on the driving range with him almost every day.”
For Jeff that night, basketball came first. At the end of the second half, with one second left, the score was 20-19, Guests. Then, as the buzzer sounded, Jeff heaved a three point shot that swished straight into the basket, bringing the final score to 22-20, Home. Applause, cheers and laughter resounded through the gym.
Ed said that as Jeff grew, his golf game got better and better. When asked if he is a good golfer, Jeff immediately answered, “No!” His father contradicted him, however, reminding Jeff that he had recently come within a “thumbnail” of hitting a hole-in-one.
“Jeff can drive a ball 260 yards,” his father said. “Par is 72 at Drum Farm and he usually makes it in 88-100 strokes.”
Jeff’s favorite professional golfers are 3-time Masters Tournament winner Phil Mickelson and World Golf Hall of Famer and Kansas City, Mo., native Tom Watson.
Jeff and Ed play every Wednesday at Drum Farm in Independence, in an informal league of about 15-20 friends. Ed said the informal group gave his son a chance to hang out with friends of his, which gave the young man a sense of belonging. As a result, Jeff’s confidence increased and his playing improved even more.
Ed and Teresa Minor with their sons Eddie and Jeff are among the founding parishioners at Holy Family. Ed said the Holy Family “community has rallied around his family and the support has been a humbling, grace experience. We’re rolling with the Lord’s direction on this, and enjoying the moment.”
Jeff is an alumnus of neighboring St. Charles Borromeo Parish’s Special Education Program for the Developmentally Disabled. SPRED helped him prepare for the sacraments of reconciliation, First communion and confirmation. Ed Minor was one of the leaders and instructors for confirmation preparation.
Jeff serves as an usher at Holy Family Parish. “I pass out hymnals,” he said.
Ed Minor said he also passes the basket for offerings and hands out bulletins. Jeff is quick to volunteer to fill in for ushers who are absent, Ed added.
Jeff joined the Knights of Columbus a few years ago, and enjoys working with fellow knights raising money for various causes. “I’ve given out Tootsie Rolls, and I help raise money for other things,” Jeff said.
One of the most popular and well-known campaigns for people with intellectual disabilities is the fund-raiser in which Knights of Columbus councils collect donations outside stores, on street corners, and in the back of church following Masses. Donors are thanked with candy, usually a Tootsie Roll.
Jeff’s love of sports, especially golf and basketball, has never faded. He began participating in Special Olympics Missouri, SOMO, when he was eight years old. Special Olympics Missouri, founded in 1971, is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 15,000 athletes participate in 21 Olympic-type sports in 255 competitions annually throughout the state. Besides golf and basketball, Jeff has also participated in gymnastics, bowling, and track and field events in the SOMO games.
Fellow Holy Family Knight of Columbus Steve Wiederholt nominated Jeff for a spot on Team USA in the 2011World Games. Jeff passed the required physical and signed an agreement to play. He practiced for 6 to 10 weeks and then competed in a city-wide tournament. He finished in the top three in both the city and the area competitions, advancing to state. He once again finished in the top three, winning a spot on Team USA. Jeff plans to attend training games at the prep camp in San Diego at the end of March.
Each Missouri athlete delegate to the World Games has a page on the SOMO Web site. On his page Jeff wrote that he is “so proud” to be representing his state as a member of Team USA.
Teresa Minor said she is proud of her son and excited about the trip to Greece, visiting the ancient buildings and monuments. Ed agreed, saying it is an awesome opportunity. Jeff, on the other hand, just wants to compete in the golf events.
Ed and Teresa said that once they arrive in Athens, they will have very little interaction with Jeff and the other Missouri athletes. Special Olympics coaches will assume custodial responsibilities, although parents may take their kids out to dinner or for an evening, Ed said. And of course, they will watch their kids compete.
During the basketball game, friends and family contributed $747, bringing the amount raised to more than the required obligation to Special Olympics.
“We’ve learned so much from this,” Ed said. “We’ve experienced the value of friendship. And like the Special Olympics athletes, we don’t focus on winning; our focus is on teamwork and competition. Life is short. Live for today and love for today, and let your life be in God’s hands. Go for it!”
If you wish to make a donation to Special Olympics for Jeff Minor, it may be mailed to Heather Neds, Director of Youth Ministries, Holy Family Parish, 919 NE 96 Street, Kansas City, MO 64155. Checks should be made payable to Special Olympics, with “Jeff Minor” on the memo line.