Bi-County Bulldogs athletes bring home state hardware

Team saluted when returning home from Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games

Cathrine Houzenga of Fulton receives her gold medal at the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games.

STERLING – The Bi-County Bulldogs received a hero’s welcome when they returned home from the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games.

Police cars and firetrucks escorted them through Fulton, Morrison, Rock Falls and Sterling on June 9 to celebrate the Bulldogs’ triumphs in track and field and soccer skills events at the Summer Games held that weekend at Illinois State University and other locations in Normal.

Bulldogs coach Mandi Roggy made the arrangements for the escorts.

In Fulton, “The police department, fire department and community members did an amazing job showing their support,” Roggy said. “Community members made signs, lined the streets and blew airhorns.”

Five of the 12 Bulldogs at the Summer Games won an event in their division:

  • Catherine Houzenga, 15, Fulton, softball throw.
  • Nora Kasinger, 13, Fulton: mini javelin.
  • Collin Mealing, 15, Sterling: 800-meter run.
  • Kaleb Schipper, 21, Fulton: mini javelin.
  • River Weston, 11, soccer skills.

This season was the first time the Bulldogs competed in mini javelin. But their lack of experience in the event didn’t matter. Two of their gold medals at the Summer Games were in mini javelin.

This season also was the first time the Bulldogs competed in soccer skills. They also had a Summer Games champion in that competition.

Schipper’s winning throw in the mini javelin at the Summer Games caused quite a stir. Roggy said his toss of 40.45 meters “silenced the crowd.”

Schipper also finished in third place in the 50-meter run.

Mealing lowered his personal record in the 800-meter run by three seconds at the Summer Games. He was clocked in at 2:48.78

For Houzenga and Weston, this was their first time competing in any sport for the Bulldogs.

In addition to her softball throw championship, Houzenga finished third in the 50-meter run. Her story is inspirational. Roggy said Houzenga initially was very hesitant to join the Bulldogs.

“Sports were just not Catherine’s thing and she didn’t like to be around people,” Roggy said.

But she put aside her discomfort, joined the Bulldogs and finished in first place in the softball throw and 50-meter run at a regional competition in May, qualifying for the Summer Games in both events.

“Now Catherine is glad she joined our team,” Roggy said. “She’s doing bowling with us right now and she said she can’t wait for the track and field season next year.”

How did Houzenga deal with the crowds at the Summer Games? After all, about 3,500 athletes and unified partners, 1,250 coaches, 1,200 volunteers and 10,000 family members and friends were there.

“Catherine enjoyed the Summer Games. She even went to the opening ceremony,” Roggy said.

Here’s how the other seven Bulldogs fared in their events at the Summer Games:

  • Brendon Hoagland, 13, Rock Falls: second place in mini javelin.
  • Damian Hughes, 18, Sterling: fifth place in the 50-meter run.
  • Zachariah Kaye, 16, Morrison: third place in the 50-meter run.
  • Lucy Kurtz, 13, Fulton: fourth place in softball throw.
  • Samantha Merriman, 27, Dixon: third in place in the 100-meter run.
  • Stella Volkert, 13, Fulton: fourth place in softball throw and fifth place in the 50-meter run.
  • Samantha Zimmerman, 18, Lanark: fourth place in softball throw.

First- through third-place finishers in each event at the Summer Games received medals. Every other competitor received a ribbon.

The Bulldogs compete in Special Olympics sports representing the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative. The cooperative was formed in 1969. It provides special-education services to 11 member school districts.

Regional offices of education in Sterling and Freeport also are members of the cooperative.

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