For the third time, Fort Leonard Wood will be the host site for the first major event of the year for Special Olympics Missouri.

The 2017 State Indoor Games are scheduled from March 16 through 19, with bowling at Daugherty Bowling Center and basketball competitions at multiple facilities on post and in Waynesville.

"This is a very big deal" for the more than 2,000 athletes, coaches and chaperones who will be visiting the post, according to Harrison McLean, SOMO Public Relations and Volunteer coordinator.

"(The athletes are) always excited for our state games, and particularly excited to compete on Fort Leonard Wood," McLean said. "They enjoy interacting with Soldiers; they enjoy the experience of being on (post), and they are always talking about the next time we will be on Fort Leonard Wood."

Athletes will begin arriving
the evening of March 16, and begin competing in bowling March 17. Also March 17, the SOMO Victory Village, a carnival-like area for athletes and coaches, will be set up with multiple games, health information and more inside Davidson Fitness Center, followed by the official opening ceremonies at 7 p.m.

On March 18, while bowling continues at DBC, basketball tournaments will be played on multiple courts at DFC, Pippin Youth Center, Shay Gym, Cunningham Gym and Swift Gym on post, as well as Waynesville's high school, middle school and the R-VI Sixth Grade Center. Bowling wraps up on March 19 at DBC, and the games close with a Victory Dance at Nutter Field House and Bingo at the USO that evening.

Volunteers needed

At every point along the schedule, volunteers are needed to help make the games a success. From timekeepers, scorekeepers and awards presenters, to health screeners, individual assistants and road guards, volunteers are needed at various times throughout the event.

Rhonda Hutsell, Fort Leonard Wood Army Volunteer Corps coordinator, said her office has signed up about 500 volunteers so far and is seeking up to 500 more.

"We always need more," Hutsell said. "On (March 17) alone, we will probably utilize about 450 volunteers -- that's just getting things ready to go, and of course having volunteers to help with bowling, setting up and helping run the Victory Village and setting up for the Opening Ceremonies."

"On the 18th, in addition to bowling, we have basketball going on at eight gyms, with roughly 20 volunteers needed per gym," Hutsell added.

Hutsell said one area in need of volunteers is certified referees.

"Certified officials is a big one for us -- we don't have anyone yet," she said.

Volunteers should register no later than Feb. 28. Hutsell said to register, or for more information, potential volunteers should contact her office at 573.596.0131, ext. 60212.

McLean said SOMO officials have been impressed by the early turnout of volunteers so far.

"It's great news for us," he said. "Volunteers are really a big part of what we do. We couldn't do any of the events we do without volunteer help. We've been working closely with (Hutsell), and we're excited to hear about that."

A chance to advance

Although this is the third State Indoor Games for SOMO, 2017 will mark the first time athletes will have a chance to advance based on their performance here, McLean said.

"This will be a first, because we have the Special Olympics USA Games coming up in 2018, and any team that gets a gold medal at one of our state events this year will be able to qualify for the USA games," McLean said. "This is the first of three qualifier games we will use to qualify for that."

In addition to the State Indoor Games, SOMO will also host the State Summer Games in June in Springfield, Missouri, and the State Outdoor Games, typically held in October in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Between the three events, about 150 athletes, coaches and chaperones will be selected to form the Missouri delegation to the USA games, McLean said.

The athletes coming to Fort Leonard Wood will already have competed at two levels to qualify for the State Indoor Games.

The six SOMO areas, which include the Kansas City Metro, St. Louis Metro, North, Central, Southwest and Southeast areas, held basketball and bowling competitions in the fall, followed by regional competitions held this month in Joplin, Jefferson City and Cape Girardeau.

The State Indoor Games were first held on Fort Leonard Wood in 2015, after SOMO separated bowling and basketball competitions from its annual summer games.

The move allowed SOMO athletes to compete in more individual sports throughout the year.