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Vic Wertz,Special Olympics Winter Games,Grand Traverse Resort

Special Olympics Michigan Winter Games Canceled for this Year

By Stephen King

This month, of all the cancellations I have had to write about, this one is perhaps the worst for me personally. That is because for more than 20 years now, one of the highlights of my winter has been attending the Special Olympics Winter Games, which are held at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme.

Many years ago, about a year or two after I started writing here at Michigan Snowmobiler, then-owner Lyle Shipe asked me to go down and cover the Special Olympics Michigan Winter Games. Like most people, I had heard about the Games. But, like most, I did not know a lot about them.

One of the things I did not know was that they are totally sponsored by a group called the Wertz Warriors, a group of people named after one of the best players to ever don a Detroit Tigers uniform — Vic Wertz.

Vic had the idea of combining his love of snowmobiling and his love of special people. He knew the Special Olympics were just getting going here in Michigan, and he knew he wanted to do something to help.

Vic had had a great life. As a pro baseball player, he had lived the dream. Now, as he started getting older, he wanted to pass along some of that dream to the Special Olympians. He wanted to make their Games the best that they could be.

So, using the name and contacts he had made from his career in baseball, Vic organized the first Wertz Warriors Ride for Special Olympics. This promotional ride went from town to town to collect the money various groups had raised throughout the year.

Vic Wertz,Special Olympics Winter Games,Grand Traverse Resort

Most of these events were put on by his “Warriors.” They would go to a town, put on events, sell paper snowmobiles and just plain work all year long to raise money. Then, in one spectacular ride, Vic and about 100 of his Warriors would go from town to town to pick up the money and put on a show.

Now, that show was not just to add to a retired sports hero’s ego. It also served to raise awareness for Special Olympics Michigan’s Winter Games, Special Olympics in general and the needs of those Special Athletes.

Right away, the ride was a success, but then tragedy struck. Just a couple years in, when it was starting to look like Vic’s plan was really going to take off, the world lost Vic.

Some of his good friends took his name and used that as a battle cry for the event he created. Within a few years, the event had truly grown into what it is today — an icon in the world of fundraising. Today, the Wertz Warriors raise more than $300,000 per year for Special Olympics.

Their efforts totally fund the Michigan Special Olympics Winter Games. The funds totally cover the costs for athletes to attend these Games. Also, the money over the amount needed for the Games is divided, with a portion going back to the communities in which it was raised. Thinking into the future, a portion goes into a fund that will totally fund the Games forever if the Warriors somehow are no more. This plan leaves a legacy for Vic Wertz that he would have been totally proud of.

From personal experience, I know exactly how much good the Wertz Warriors have done. Like I stated, years ago, Lyle sent me down to cover the Games. Like most, I had known a few Special People. But to see about 1,000 of them having the time of their lives — well, I am a professional wordsmith and I cannot find the words to describe what the Games have done for so many of these athletes.

Vic Wertz,Special Olympics Winter Games,Grand Traverse Resort

Think about your career in high school. Think about the homecoming game. Think about prom. Think about having fun with all your friends. For those of you who have ever played sports, think about scoring that winning TD in front of the whole town. That feeling is what these Special Olympians get at the Games.

These Games are their homecoming. Their prom. Their moment to shine.

Many of them live a life most of us don’t experience. They live in the shadows. If we see them, we still really don’t see them. We might see them at the local fast food joint, mopping the floors, wiping down the tables, doing those jobs that most of us think are beneath us. And, most of the time when we see them, we ignore them and make sure we don’t make any eye contact with them. Or, even worse, talk to them.

But the ones who get to do those jobs are the lucky ones. Many do not even have the mental capacity to hold down any job. Many are confined to their homes and to the people who take care of them.

However, for all of these Special Athletes, each winter, for a few days, they get their moments of glory. They get to be the stars. They get to walk the red carpet. They get to live in the spotlight.
For me, after that first experience, when I got home, the first thing I did was to hug my son, who was about 10 at the time. The next thing that I did was to dial up Lyle and give him a report. I told him this was an event we really needed to get more involved with. He agreed. Since then, we have done what we can to support the Wertz Warriors and Special Olympics.

Now, I am happy to say that with the change in ownership of Michigan Snowmobiler magazine, the new owners have agreed to let me continue to cover and support this most worthy cause.
But, as I began to say at the top of this article, this year the Games will not happen. Recently, I talked to my old friend Ken Mattei, a past president of the Warriors who is still very involved with the group.

Ken also had a very heavy heart. He, too, was saddened that the Games would not happen this year.

Also, with the pandemic still going on and the governor doing what she must “to keep us safe,” Ken is still not sure exactly what will happen. At this time, they are still planning on doing the ride.
But they have some problems. With the bars and restaurants closed to indoor dining by COVID by the governor’s orders, they can ride and they can stay in the hotels, but the Games will not happen.

The Warriors would put on their shows at those now-closed bars and restaurants.

That, too, was where they had collected the money that had been raised and where they highlighted those giving communities. So, there is a good chance that along with the Games, even the ride might not happen.

But the need is still there. Ken related that they are still raising money. He noted that even though the Games are not happening this year, when this crisis passes, the Games will return. And, through the efforts of the Warriors, they will continue to be what they have been — a shining light in a world of darkness. They will show us again the good that concerned people can do.

Now, at the time of this writing, I do not know exactly what will happen. So, I cannot even point you in a certain direction. But I can say that these Special Olympians will still need your support.
So, donate what you can. Get involved, if you can. Buy one of those paper snowmobiles you might see someplace. In this time of need, every dollar helps. And, these Special Athletes still deserve our help.

This year, while the Games may not happen, keep these Special Olympians close to your heart. They give us love. They show us what real humans can become. I support Special Olympians because so many of them are way better than I, or most of the people I know, will ever be. They are love.

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