Volunteers get a kick out of helping Special Olympics

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Brennen Pickens arrived at the Ursuline Academy softball field unsure about playing in the kickball game. He considered watching from the sidelines.

With the guidance of Ursuline alumnae Paige Salthouse and other volunteers, he soon was at the plate kicking the ball and running to first base to loud cheers. Later, after he ran to third, Salthouse praised the 7-year-old. "Good job. You're fast," she said.

Brennen's enthusiasm at the game Aug. 4 was encouraged by the volunteers with Special Olympics Missouri who organized the game.

After a few innings, Brennen took over the pitching duties for his team. His first efforts were a little too bouncy, but with a little coaching he soon was rolling them to the plate flawlessly. Volunteer Greg Heins, a St. John Vianney High School grad, was impressed. "Good job, dude," Heins said. "You're doing awesome pitching."

Brennen's mom, Jessica Pickens, said he played T-ball on a community team and disliked it. They decided to give kickball a try. "I never would have expected that," she said of Brennen's enjoyment and eventual role as a pitcher. "It means everything to me. I'm recording every moment."

The family, who attends Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield, moved to the Parkway School District in St. Louis County from a small town in Illinois. Brennen, who has autism, participated in Special Olympics basketball and track and field through a link with the Special School District. Jessica Pickens said Brennan looks to her constantly, so she was pleased when Salthouse smiled and told him, "You can be with me."

"He needs to develop independence, and he's doing it. She's fantastic," Jessica Pickens said of Salthouse.

The volunteers were from Abstrakt Marketing Group's inaugural Abstrakt Gives Back Day. The company's 250 employees and their family members spent time at 19 local nonprofit organizations. Salthouse, an intern at the firm who attends McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., suggested Special Olympics. She's familiar with the sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Its local program director, Jocelyn Diehl, was Salthouse's lacrosse coach at Ursuline.

The Cardinals vs. the Minions played a "unified" kickball game, partnering the athletes with volunteers.

Antonio Martinez, assistant partner sales manager at Abstrakt and a parishioner at St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres, said volunteering was a time to have fun and give back to the community. "It's a time to do something for the greater good," he said.

Michaela Gilligan, a quality trainer at Abstrakt and a parishioner at Ste. Genevieve du Bois Parish in Warson Woods, high-fived a Special Olympics athlete as the runner crossed first base with a hit. "It's rewarding, definitely," Gilligan said. "It makes me happy to see the kids having fun and being happy."

Breanna Pope, a member of St. Mark Parish in Affton, watched her brother, Devin Pope, 12, run the bases. He smiled at his sister when he scored. "I like how involved the volunteers are, encouraging them, showing patience and cheering them," Breanna Pope said. 

>> Lacrosse player Paige Salthouse

• At Ursuline Academy, the 2014 graduate was named a high school All-America honoree by US Lacrosse her senior year. She scored 82 goals with 31 assists and St. Louis Metro-leading 156 ground balls in her final prep season.

• Her father is from New Zealand, and she played with the New Zealand U19 National Team at the Federation of International Lacrosse U19 Women's World Championship. The team finished fifth.

• At McKendree University, Salthouse was a second-team All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection in her first collegiate season. She started in all 18 games for the Bearcats and finished second on the team with 19 assists and third with 43 goals. She was also tied for the team lead with 62 points to share the school record for points in a single season. Her 32 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers were also both second on the team that season.

• Her sophomore season she scored a team high 64 goals and had 17 assists. She collected 30 groundballs, 59 draw controls and 17 caused turnovers. In her junior year, Salthouse played and started in 16 games netting 40 goals and 13 assists. She collected 24 groundballs, 51 draw controls and 12 cause turnovers and was named to the All-GLIAC Tournament Team and All-GLIAC Second-Team. The marketing major was named to the GLIAC All-Academic Excellence Team.

• The McKendree University women's lacrosse team posted an overall record of 13-5 during the 2017 season. The Bearcats went 6-1 during GLIAC play, then defeated the University of Indianapolis and top-seeded Grand Valley State University to capture the program's first-ever GLIAC Tournament championship. McKendree was ranked No. 19 in the final Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) poll.

• The team has two other players from Catholic high schools in St. Louis who are upperclasmen: junior defender Katie Kruse of Barat Academy; and senior attacker Dana DiPasquale of Barat Academy who totaled 75 points on 39 goals and 36 assists. DiPasquale was selected an All-GLIAC First Team member and to the All-GLIAC Tournament Team. Kayla Weaver, a freshman from Ursuline Academy, joins the team this year. 

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