ENKENBACH-ALSENBORN, Germany- Dirk Grosskopf threw a softball for the first time May 6 at the Special Olympics Spring Games held at the German Police Academy here.

"First time ever, and he (Dirk) picked it up really fast," said Charles Heath, an Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee in Landstuhl, who was volunteering as Grosskopf's buddy - an athlete's personal coach, cheerleader and friend for the day.

Pitching under his leg, the 13-year-old athlete from the Christoph-Graupner-Schule in Darmstadt said to his buddy, who translated, "I like this game very much."

Special Olympics is an international program of athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It's been held in the Kaiserslautern military community in early May for 25 years courtesy of the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern. For the past nine years, the event has been held and co-hosted by the German Police Academy.

A record number of athletes - 800; almost 200 more than last year - participated in this year's games, said Kari Sharpe, the USAG Kaiserslautern's Exceptional Family Member program manager, who has supervised the games for three years.

The athletes, ages 5 to 70, competed in eight games such as soccer, badminton and tennis. Bocce ball marked its first appearance as an official sport at the garrison games. Athletes were also able to enjoy 10 non-competitive games like treasure hunt or bowling.

Participants represented 48 schools and institutions throughout Germany, including 17 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe from seven military communities.
Volunteers totaled more than 1,400 German and American military and civilian members from surrounding areas.

"I think it's great that people here have taken time off in their day to come here and help out," said Dirk's father, Marcos Grosskopf, as he wiped tears from his eyes. "It's very emotional for me ...the friendships...the love - it's a great thing."

Ribbons were given at the competitive events for just trying, with some athletes garnering first, second or third-place honors. By the games' end, numerous multicolored ribbons adorned most athletes.

Adding to the color were medals of gold, silver and bronze awarded in the competitive games in gender-specific categories such as assisted, unassisted and wheelchair bound.

The Sarah Bican Inspirational Athlete Trophy was awarded to Lisa Klar, an athlete from the Jakob-Muth-Schule in Kusel, for showing spirit and love of the games. This award is named after Sarah Bican, who as a DODDS teacher brought Special Olympics to Kaiserslautern in 1974.

Upon receiving the trophy, Klar said, "I want to go home to show my mother."