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Families gather for Games

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Families gather for Games
Jeff Woith of Downs congratulates his daughter, Cassie Woith, 17, after she won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash Saturday at the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games at Illinois State University. (Pantagraph/B MOSHER)

NORMAL - Fourteen family members wore handmade T-shirts, but Tom Czajka's stood out with "Papa" painted in sparkly letters and a personalized name tag that read "Dad." Having his family together to watch son Steven, 15, participate in the 50-meter race at the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games made for a perfect Father's Day, Czajka said.

Cheering Steven is a family tradition that drew brother David Strackbein all the way from Texas. Steven napped at a picnic table after his race, where he earned fifth place. He's won gold in past years.

"This is great; it brings the whole family together," said Tom Czajka of Calumet City. In addition to attending the competition on the Illinois State University campus on Saturday, some of the family will visit a theme park and go to a Chicago Cubs game.

Inside Hancock Stadium, a long line of people waited to buy souvenirs, a tradition for the family of Luke Clotfelter of Springfield, who has been competing for about five years. Most of his family wore tie-dyed T-shirts from a similar event as they waited to update their wardrobe.

His grandfather, Bob Bearden, planned to cook 30 to 40 pork chops at his Bloomington home as part of the annual family celebration.

Jeff Woith congratulated daughter Cassie Woith, 17, of Downs, for her gold-medal run. He knew the names and medals won by all the Downs and Tri-Valley school students.

Michael Lukacek cheered his son, Matthew Lukacek, 19, to two golds and a silver medal in 10 years of swimming competition.

The ISU grounds were filled with families, who splashed in the water, danced, cheered their athletes and comforted those who needed it.

On Friday, 437 families had registered at the event, which runs through noon today.

Jo Ann Kinsley of Morton, who has volunteered for about 16 years, was working Saturday at the family booth. She said family get-togethers are an important part of the event.

In the first few hours Saturday, 40 more families had registered, she said. One family wore bright green T-shirts emblazoned with "Super Stevie" and the image of a flying wheelchair.

The Jurczyk-Krakora families numbered a full dozen, ranging from a 5-month-old girl to a 64-year-old man.

They all cheered Steve Jurczyk, 10, a Des Plaines wheelchair athlete who won third place. He had won two gold medals in qualifying competitions.

Grandpa Don Brady cheered Sarah Manzo, 10, of Chicago in the assisted-walk race. "Last year I promised her I'd take her to Disney if she won," he said.

It worked: Sarah got a gold medal and the trip, he said.

The Special Olympics is a quarter-century tradition with the Kevin Mock family of Clinton, who distributed water.

Mock's son, Justin Mock of Bloomington, has been helping since second grade and is now 28 years old. "I started as a little kid and it was fun to watch the athletes and ride the carts," he said.

"This is my (Fathers' Day) gift," said Kevin Mock. It's a gift he gives and one he gets.

By the numbers

621 - Families who attended the three-day Illinois Special Olympics Summer Games at ISU last year

437 - Families who attended the first day this year (the final total is expected to be higher than last year)

115 - New families who attended Friday

14 - People in one of the larger family groups Saturday

SOURCES: Family registration volunteers Marcy Parsons and Jo Ann Kinsley; Steven Czajka family members

Compiled by Phyllis Coulter

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