Anne Photograp News 2024

Mayo softball fundraiser for Special Olympics a home run in some ways – Post Bulletin

Mayo softball fundraiser for Special Olympics a home run in some ways – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER – Aaron McNallan knows that high school athletics is so much more than just wins and losses.

So the third-year Mayo High School softball coach decided it was time for a new tradition for the program – one that still involved the ball diamond, but also went beyond that.

In the past, the Spartans had hosted a strikeout cancer event, but McNallan and company thought they could do something more.

McNallan decided that each group of seniors would choose a charity and the team would then hold an event during the season to raise money for the selected cause. McNallan had a list of about six or seven suggestions, but his seniors came back with another: Why not raise money for the Special Olympics?

McNallan’s daughter – senior Olivia – had taken the Unified Physical Education elective at Mayo during the first semester of this school year. Mayo’s Unified Progam combines general and special education, pairing the two student groups together for different class periods.

“I just loved the class,” Olivia said.

In March, Mayo High School held the popular and annual Polar Plunge, which raises money for the Unified Program and other Special Olympics programs in southeastern Minnesota. The softball team received applause from the Unified Program for having the highest participation of any Mayo sports team.

It wasn’t long after that when Unified Program Advisor Colin Thomas quickly made a stop at Mayo’s softball practice and asked if the Spartans would like to participate in a modified Rochester Raiders softball team practice. The Raiders strive to promote, grow and sustain a cooperative high school athletics program endorsed by the Minnesota State High School League for qualified 7th through 12th grade high school students with disabilities from Rochester and surrounding areas school districts.

Thomas was Olivia’s advisor for the Unified PE class and they had talked about making this a reality. It seemed like a perfect situation. It was answered with a resounding yes from the Spartans.

“We showed up in our uniforms and they were so excited,” senior Hailey Lamers said. “We helped them with their drills: hitting, throwing, baserunning. We did a game at the end, which was super fun to learn how they played their game, instead of us just helping them. To see how they doing things and playing the game was just really cool to see.

“…It gave us perspective for how we play and how they play. It was just a super cool dynamic to all play together. Everyone was super excited. In the end, I think we lost.”

Mayo High School Polar Plunge

A “thank you” sign is held aloft during a fundraising event for Unified Programming at Mayo High School and other Special Olympics programs in southeastern Minnesota on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, outside Mayo High School in Rochester. Mayo softball (front and center) had the largest participation of any Spartan team.

Joe Ahlquist/Post Bulletin file photo

“Yeah, they beat us pretty good,” Olivia added. “We even had races and they beat us again in those.”

For the Spartans it lingered for an hour and a half.

“Just a great experience,” said Aaron McNallan.

It was these experiences that led to last Saturday at the Rochester Youth Fastpich Softball Complex.

The Spartans organized a three-way tie-in with St. Charles and Osseo in an effort to raise money for the Rochester Flyers Special Olympics Team – an organization that serves more than 300 athletes with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older in southeastern Minnesota. Their mission is to celebrate the abilities of their athletes through sport, while relying primarily on fundraising for expenses such as facility rental, competition fees, transportation to competitive events and uniforms.

“It seemed like it was meant to be,” Lamers said, “with Liv in the classroom. And we have our pitching coach Abby (Grismer) who was here with us, who does a lot of work with Special Olympics. Everything kind of just stood out the place where we thought: ‘Okay, this feels good. This is all we want, it’s not just choosing a random charity.’ We know these kids and know them better now.”

That ‘meant to be’ feeling lasted until Saturday. Extensive rain early on Saturday morning threatened the event, but volunteers worked tirelessly in the fields and soon the weather turned in their favor, paving the way for the festivities to go ahead.

“The sun just came out,” Olivia said. “It looked like a movie.”

“It all fell into place,” Lamers said.

Mayo softball triangular

Rochester Raiders player Sawyer Hanson reacts after throwing out the first pitch on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at the Mayo softball triangle that raised money for the Rochester Flyers Special Olympics Team.

Contributed / Chuchna portraits

When the sun shone, the spectators followed suit.

Soon people from all over the world – even some with no connection to Mayo or St. Charles softball – filled the RYFSA complex. All with one goal: to support the Special Olympics in southeastern Minnesota.

“When it got sunny, a lot of people showed up,” senior Meagan Putzier said. “I think it was unique to see all the people around the field and even at the concession stand. I think it’s a really unique thing to happen, even for the Raiders players that were there with us, to see all these people there supporting them.”

The day kicked off with members of the Rochester Raiders throwing out the first pitch and was highlighted with other cool fundraising activities such as a home run derby, an eyeblack station in addition to the great softball promotion with all proceeds going to the Flyers.

Local businesses HALCON and People’s Cooperative Services each donated $500. St. Charles also donated all the money from that week’s concession sales to the cause. Ultimately, the event raised more than $2,500. Add to that the more than $11,000 raised during the Mayo High School Arctic Plunge and this group of Mayo softball players helped raise a significant amount of money for their classmates, whose cheerful looks on their faces were priceless.

“You can see them having fun and it’s really cool to see, but afterwards parents and siblings came up to us and said they appreciate it so much,” Lamers said. “For people on the outside, parents, to come up to us and (say) ‘they appreciate this so much, you were great, thank you so much, they were so excited about this.’ That really means a lot. That’s what it’s all about.”

Mayo failed to secure a win, but on this day the results on the pitch paled in comparison to the real reason they were there. All teams walked off the diamond that day as winners.

“The environment on Saturday was just surreal,” Olivia said. “Yes, we lost two games, but I didn’t feel like we lost at all. When you saw the kids’ faces and just the parents’ faces, you could see that everyone was so proud. Even at the Raiders training gives you a new perspective on life, because those kids are so happy every day of their lives. You don’t think about ‘Oh, I got a 6 on my test’ or something like that and feel like going out and having your best day.”

“It was really just a great day,” Aaron McNallan said.

With this new tradition having such great success, Mayo’s seniors are hoping that future senior classes will pick up the baton and run with it.

“We hope this sets the bar for what future seniors choose as an organization,” said senior Alivia Haakenson. “With the amount of money we’ve raised, we hope they want to be better and be better than what we’ve been able to do.”

Mayo softball triangular

Rochester Raiders’ Cooper Morrisey throws out the first pitch for the Mayo softball triangle on Saturday, May 4, 2024 at the Rochester Youth Faspitch Softball Complex. The event was to raise money for the Rochester Flyers Special Olympics Team.

Contributed / Chuchna portraits

Mayo softball

From left to right, Mayo seniors Meagan Putzier, Olivia McNallan, Hailey Lamers and Alivia Haakenson pose in their “Special Olympics t-shirts” created for Saturday’s fundraising event. It was these four who came up with the idea to raise money for the Rochester Flyers Special Olympic Team. Ultimately, the event raised more than 2,500 euros.

Alex VandenHouten / Postbulletin

Mayo softball

Mayo’s Olivia McNallan poses for the camera during the fundraising triangle that raised money for the Rochester Flyers Special Olympics Team at the Rochester Youth Fastpitch Softball Complex on Saturday, May 4, 2024.

Contributed / Chuchna portraits