By David Markham
A Special Olympics group in eastern Shawnee recently rejoined JCPRD’s Special Olympics program, and officials are excited about the recombination and what it means for the future.
“I’m really excited for the merger as our athletes have many friends that were previously on the Shawnee Storm and now will be joining the JCPRD Rangers,” said Children’s Services Assistant Manager Rob Knaussman. “It is fun to sit back and watch them rekindle their friendships.”
“The merger has strengthened our team with the addition of athletes and coaches at all skill levels,” added Special Populations Coordinator Lise Dujakovich.
During its regular monthly meeting in August, the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding for the transition of the Shawnee Storm Special Olympics Team into the JCPRD Rangers Special Olympic Team.
“Since that time, JCPRD has taken over all administrative duties and welcomed former Shawnee Storm athletes, families, coaches, and volunteers to participate in Special Olympics programming,” Dujakovich explained. “Shawnee Storm’s organizational funds have been successfully transferred to JCPRD, as well as their sports equipment.”
The Shawnee Storm was a group located in western Johnson County which broke away from JCPRD more than a decade ago, to seek more of a neighborhood/local school community feel for their program.
“The founders of Shawnee Storm Special Olympics created their group about 14 years ago, when their own children were young, on a completely volunteer basis,” Dujakovich said. “Their children are now adults and the founders encouraged other parents to step into leadership roles to continue supporting the local program. Unfortunately, the Shawnee Storm local program dissolved and they reached out to JCPRD.”
With the two teams back together, JCPRD has launched a rebranding effort to include both JCPRD and Shawnee Storm athletes and families, encouraging them to submit ideas for colors, team names, and logos. Those submissions have been narrowed down to the top three most popular suggestions.
“We are actively working with JCPRD’s Marketing & Communications Department to make mock-ups of each design and then put the top three to a final vote,” Dujakovich said. “We hope to present the final selection at our Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in November.”
JCPRD’s current Special Olympics delegation numbers 98 athletes, while Shawnee Storm’s roster includes about 48 athletes. Dujakovich noted that 20 former Shawnee Storm members have joined JCPRD offerings for track and field, bowling, tennis, cycling, soccer, walking and fishing clubs, a learn to play disc golf session (coached by Johnson County Park Police officers), a Fit & Healthy Athlete series, softball, golf, volleyball, floor hockey, and aquatics. And winter sports will be starting soon.
As part of the merger, $61,000 from the Shawnee Storm’s fundraising account has been transferred to JCPRD. Approximately $28,000 has been dedicated to 48 athletes of the former Shawnee Storm delegation to utilize as scholarship funds to support their continued involvement in Special Olympics sports. The remaining $33,000 is being held in a separate account to support the rebranding effort, which will include the purchase of new uniforms for the entire JCPRD team.
The Shawnee Storm’s accumulated athletic equipment is currently being held in storage until Dujakovich and Knaussman can sort through it.
“Whatever JCPRD does not keep to support our sports programming will be donated to Special Olympics Kansas,” Dujakovich said. “Special Olympics Kansas will, in turn, make that equipment available to local programs throughout the state.”
Efforts toward the Storm-Rangers merger began in late 2021, and in March of this year, JCPRD hosted a well-attended meet and greet event with members of both teams.
“The addition of Shawnee Storm participants and coaches has brought a host of new and exciting personalities to JCPRD,” Dujakovich said. “A bump in the road or two is always expected, but we’ve had wonderful guidance and support from Shawnee Storm leadership to make this transition a success so far. We look forward to welcoming more athletes and coaches as their favorite sport season rolls around!”