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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Two area residents are up for honors by Special Olympics

Thursday, November 14, 2002

SIKESTON -- Recently two area residents were nominated for induction into the Special Olympics Missouri Hall of Fame and their wait of knowing who won will come to an end on Saturday, when the inductees are announced.

Vicky Dannenmueller of Oran is one of three finalists in the volunteer category throughout the state, and Greg Swinney of Sikeston is one of four finalists in the athlete category.

Although Dannenmueller is honored to be a finalist, she doesn't want to talk about her nomination -- just Swinney's.

"I just want Greggie to win," Dannenmueller said. "I'd rather see him get it than me."

In 1980, Dannenmueller was a single mother and recently divorced woman. She wanted to find something that would take her mind off the sad things going on in her life, and she was able to do that through Special Olympics Missouri.

Since Dannenmueller began her involvement with Special Olympics Missouri 22 years ago, she has worn many hats in the organization including area director, coach, bus driver and chaperone. She's also gotten close with the area Special Olympians, and in particular with Swinney.

"My kids and my grandchildren were raised with Greg. He's the same age as one of my daughters. They've all been raised with the Special Olympians," Dannenmueller said.

Special Olympics is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with mental retardation or other closely related developmental disabilities.

Dannenmueller's dedication has been instrumental in the development of a new volleyball program in her community and in convincing schools to sign up new teams. She is currently the coach of the Rebels Independent team.

Year-round sports for the Rebels Independent team include volleyball, bowling, basketball, field and track and softball. Dannenmueller's team meets every Monday to practice.

Swinney, 31, has been active in Special Olympics for 23 years, and his family credits the program for high self-esteem that gives him the confidence to be such an outspoken advocate. His list of accomplishments includes: 1998 Athlete of the Year, Hall of Fame Finalist for two years, Special Olympics Heroes Award, assistant coach and active athlete.

Basketball and bowling are Swinney's favorite sports to play, he said. He likes Special Olympics because he can help other people out and help Dannenmueller coach.

Sometimes Dannenmueller's team spends the night at her home a day before games that are far away, simply because it's easier if everyone's already in the same place before time to leave, she explained.

"They're just one big, happy family. They worry about each other and fight with each other like brothers and sisters." Dannenmueller said about her team.

Both Dannenmueller and Swinney were nominated to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before, but the trips before have been in Columbia, not Springfield, where the Hall of Fame exists. In fact this is Swinney's third nomination.

"Being a finalist is an exceptional honor. Even if he doesn't make it in, I'm proud of him." Dannenmueller said about Swinney. "But, three times the charm," she added.

To be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame, both athletes and volunteers must have participated in Special Olympics for at least 15 years; additionally, athletes must have earned a gold medal at a state level event and been nominated as Athlete of the Year.

"It would be great if we both won," Swinney said.

Swinney said he didn't expect to get nominated this year, but he is glad. "If I win, I have to give a speech and thank everyone," he said.

Special Olympics Missouri is always recruiting players and coaches, Dannenmueller said. Coaches are really needed.

Dannenmueller said, "We volunteers do whatever we have to do to keep the kids going."

The "Celebration of Heroes" banquet will be Saturday at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield.