Going for gold: Local Special Olympics chapter opening doors

Erik Hoffee has been competing as a Special Olympics athlete since he was 8 years old.

Now 35, Erik is still at it. He plays catcher in softball, he bowls — and he’s fearless enough to compete in downhill skiing as well.

“He goes places we won’t go,” said Erik’s father, Bill Hoffee.

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Chelsea Davis wasn’t allowed to compete for the varsity sports teams when she attended Center Grove — she was a four-year student manager for the volleyball team instead. But being around athletic competition made her hungry to take part, and now, as a Special Olympics athlete, she plays volleyball as well as bowling, golf, softball, swimming and track & field.

This year, Davis was Special Olympics Johnson County’s nominee for the statewide Spirit of Special Olympics Athlete of the Year honor.

“It feels really good,” Davis said, “because I get to do the sports that I’ve always wanted to do. It gets me active; it keeps me healthy. So doing all of these sports makes my life a lot better, because I can do all of the sports I wasn’t able to do in high school.”

Both Davis and Erik Hoffee have been able to find their niche within SOJC, an organization which provides a competitive platform for more than 200 local athletes of all ages.

Erik Hoffee and his family first got involved with Special Olympics in Michigan. They’ve moved back and forth over the years, but when they settled in Johnson County five years ago, SOJC was their starting point.

“It’s a great support system,” Carolyn Hoffee said. “When you move into an area, that’s where you go first because you’ll have a community right away.”

No matter where they’ve lived, the Hoffees have always been heavily involved in Erik’s activities. Recently, they were honored as the state’s 2016 Spirit of Special Olympics Family of the Year.

Through the years, one of the driving forces behind SOJC has been Sue Koch, a former special education teacher at Whiteland High School who first got involved because she wanted her students to have a place to play sports.

Koch started out with basketball and bowling, the first sports offered locally. As the organization has grown, she’s grown right along with it.

“It’s my passion, my hobby, my life,” she said.

While she was SOJC’s nominee for Spirit of Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year, Koch pointed out that the entire community has pitched in to help.

She recalled the kindness of former Whiteland High athletic director Butch Zike, who started allowing SOJC to use the school’s facilities at no charge more than 20 years ago. That has continued under the school’s current AD, Ken Sears.

“(Zike) was very gracious about feeling it was important that all students had the opportunity to be on a team,” Koch said.

Thanks to volunteers such as Koch, hundreds of athletes of all ages have been able to take advantage of those opportunities.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.