DARKE COUNTY — Three Darke County Special Olympics softball players represented Team Ohio at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, bringing home gold for the Buckeye State.
Devin Billenstein, Derrick Hemmelgarn and Nick Meade helped guide Ohio to a 5-1 record and the championship in the top division at the national games, which were held June 14-21 in New Jersey.
“They represented Darke County and Ohio very well,” Darke County Special Olympics Director Cindy Rose said.
It was the third installment of the Special Olympics USA Games, which are held every four years like the Olympics. The games previously were held in 2006 in Iowa and in 2010 in Nebraska.
The Special Olympics are structured like the Olympics with an opening and a closing ceremony. The opening ceremony included athletes marching into the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, as their states were announced; a cauldron lighting ceremony and an opening show.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Rose said.
Four years ago Darke County sent two softball players to the national games, but all three of this year’s players were first-time members of Team Ohio.
Team Ohio went 3-1 in pool play to finish second to New Jersey. But in the tournament, Ohio beat Iowa and New Jersey to capture the national championship — even though the team had practiced together just once in April and once after arriving in New Jersey.
While most of the Ohio softball players were in their 20s and 30s, the oldest was 52 and the youngest was 16.
The youngest was Darke County’s Hemmelgarn, a 16 year old who plays for the Sluggers locally. He played first base for Ohio.
Meade and Billenstein are both members of the Diamond Dawgs in Darke County. Meade pitched while Billenstein played in the outfield.
The three local players were chosen based on the success of the Darke County teams, how they conduct themselves in games and the ability to take a week off to compete in New Jersey, Rose said.
“Our success at the state level is rewarded by having athletes chose,” she said.
There were a total of 72 athletes from Ohio, including 15 softball players, competing in 11 sports.
While on the East Coast, the players got to visit New York City and took a cruise around the Statue of Liberty. They also watched other sports during the week and enjoyed meeting athletes from across the nation.
“They had a great time,” Rose said. “It was a good experience.”
For more information on the Special Olympics and the 2014 USA Games, visit https://www.2014specialolympics.org/.