The USA Games, one of the biggest sporting events to come to the city, is scheduled for July, 2018. The Games’ sponsors will help the competitors travel here for free and there will be no admission for fans.
Inside sports business
Standing in front of blinding television lights with a room full of media members, corporate leaders and professional athletes watching can unnerve just about any first-timer.
Alec Middleton, 18, had one of those moments last week, briefly losing track of his notes during opening remarks at a CenturyLink Field news conference announcing corporate sponsors for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games to be held in Seattle. But Middleton, a high school senior and Special Olympics golf athlete from Montesano, didn’t panic as he took a smiling pause, caught his breath, found his lines again and finished his speech to rousing applause.
“When you get up there and see all those people, it gets you thinking a little bit,’’ Middleton said with a chuckle.
Maintaining composure and regrouping on-the-fly — even when gripped by momentary stage fright — are among the skills developed by Middleton the past two years while pursing competitive golf. Despite being diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, he largely has mastered the ability to concentrate on making every shot count.
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“I have to tell myself, ‘All right, keep focusing,’ ” he said.
He was introduced to golf by an uncle but didn’t become fully immersed until a special-needs teacher at Montesano High School suggested trying the Special Olympics program.
Beyond the on-course strides made, his biggest gains have been away from the action.
“I’m definitely a little more confident,’’ Middleton said. “I found that after I started Special Olympics, I was able to make friends a little bit easier.
“People actually come up to me and say, ‘I want to go out and golf with you.’ ”
Created by Eunice Kennedy in 1968, the Special Olympics include nearly 5 million athletes from 170 nations. It delivers 32 Olympic-type events and nearly 100,000 games and competitions annually.
The USA Games, touted as one of the biggest sporting events hosted by our city, will have 3,500 athletes from across the nation showcasing their skills July 1-6, 2018.
USA Games president and CEO Beth Knox said organizers are more than a third of the way toward a $15 million fundraising goal that will cover all athlete travel and expenses. The money raised will also allow for free admission to all events, including the opening and closing ceremonies.
That’s why the partnerships announced last week are so critical.
Special Olympics Washington has teamed up with the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, Storm, Reign and with the Seattle Saracens rugby squad on professional sports partnerships. The teams have pledged financial assistance as well as fundraising support for the event, as have the University of Washington and Seattle University.
“Many of the teams are giving cash contributions in addition to promotional support at home games, or at training clinics in the offseason,’’ Knox said. “Different ways that they can engage their players and coaches.’’
Alaska Airlines, Sheraton Seattle, KOMO TV and ESPN also have signed on as corporate sponsors.
They join other “legacy” sponsors — including Microsoft, Bank of America, Starbucks, KPMG and Coca-Cola — that signed on before a USA Games kickoff announcement in May.
“Right now, the one priority is cash support to help with the games,’’ Knox said. “But many of our sponsors are, in addition, giving some kind of ‘in-kind’ value. The Coca-Cola Company, of course, provides a number of beverages for the athletes and guests of the games. The Seattle Sheraton will provide some hotel rooms for certain guests. So it’s a variety of levels of support across the board.’’
Standing alongside golfer Middleton on the stage as he led attendees in reciting the Special Olympics pledge was longtime Huskies football play-by-play broadcaster Bob Rondeau. They later were joined by designated Games ambassadors that included former Seahawks Marcus Trufant, Jordan Babineaux and Ray Roberts; ex-Sonics great Slick Watts; Huskies placekicking legend Chuck Nelson; professional soccer player Kate Deines; and Seattle University women’s soccer coach Julie Woodward.
Special Olympics Washington athlete Devon Adelman, a Down syndrome community board member studying Marine Biology and Oceanography at Highline College, told those on hand how their financial and fundraising support helps athletes such as her view themselves differently. Adelman described going through hard times and not liking herself as a teen until reconnecting with sports she had played as a young child.
“Challenging ourselves shows our heart. It’s as important as our ability,’’ she said, adding: “Sometimes we will win, and sometimes we won’t. But either way, we should give our best and try again the next time.’’
Middleton says his own self-view changed when he began testing himself against others through golf. He initially was skeptical that Special Olympics might carry a stigma but has since warmed to the camaraderie and support he has experienced.
“I felt it meant something to look down on,’’ Middleton said. “But now I think it’s something to be looked up to.’’