Wild Bunch provides opportunity for special athletes to compete

NEW ULM – The Wild Bunch Special Olympics team held one of its many important fundraisers, its Bowl-a-rama, on Saturday at Concordia Lanes, which will prove vital to a different type of athlete.

Wild Bunch Special Olympics is a group in the New Ulm area that provides sports training and competition for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Through the fundraisers, the Wild Bunch is able to support its athletes in numerous facets.

“These fundraisers are incredibly important even for them to pay the $20 state tournament fees,” said Pat Carlson, who has been running the Wild Bunch’s fundraising events for a decade. “These fundraisers support our whole program.”

Carlson, a coach for the Wild Bunch who is on its fundraising committee as well, said that she has learned and gained more with her involvement with the group than she has in any other organization.

“Our athletes are so genuine and so compassionate that they just fill you with that kid of joy,” Carlson said. “To see them succeed is just amazing. Unless you volunteered with them and spent time with them, you would never understand.”

The Wild Bunch has more than 100 athletes who compete in singles bowling, unified bowling (which includes one Special Olympics athlete and a partner from the community), track and field, full- and half-court basketball and softball. For these athletes, being a part of the Wild Bunch provides an opportunity to compete that they otherwise would not have.

“It provides, first and foremost, a safe place for all of our athletes to learn sports skills,” Carlson said. “It provides them with a positive attitude and people who are willing to teach them new skills so that they can grow in their sport.

“If you start with the very basics of an athlete who has never participated in softball, just even getting them to the place where they can make their first catch… it’s hard to understand that if it’s something that comes easy to you, but some of these athletes really struggle every step of the way. So to watch them learn and grow and go from a team that is finishing last place at state to bringing home gold medals every at state is amazing.”

This was the fourth year of the Wild Bunch’s Bowl-a-rama and the second year in which it has held a silent auction as well. The silent auction is especially important as one of the major sources of funding, which allows the athletes to compete at national and even international competition.

Recently, the Wild Bunch won a national title at a Special Olympics softball tournament in Elgin, Illinois, which was made possible by the fundraising efforts for the group.

“It really builds their confidence, it makes them feel successful to know that they’ve accomplished something from where they’ve started and that they’ve grown,” Carlson said. “It’s just like coaching any other team. To watch them succeed is pretty amazing.”

The success the athletes have had is one of the most rewarding aspects for anyone who volunteers with the Wild Bunch.

“When we came back from the last national tournament, which we won, the fire department took them for a ride in the fire trucks and [Martin Luther College] introduced our athletes at a basketball game one year,” Carlson said. “It was so amazing to me just sitting in the bleachers. I was in tears because it was just beautiful to see them so included and welcome.”

Anyone who is interested in getting involved with the Wild Bunch Special Olympics can email the group at newulmspecialolympics@gmail.com or check out its Facebook page at facebook.com/wildbunchspecialolympics.