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Helping Hands

Reprinted from SNS July 2017

From helping record statistics to providing medical care to fetching arrows, without volunteers, the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals wouldn't happen

Deb Jenks spends her workdays helping athletes with sports-related injuries as a licensed athletic trainer in the Madison, Wis., area. And for years, as her own children played youth sports, she often spent much of her after-work time at fields, rinks and courts, helping out for free. You’ve seen the type, part of the 20% of people who always seem to do 80% of the work. 

“I always volunteered to coach my kids,” Jenks says. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t happen.” 

So you’d think now that her kids are pretty much grown, Jenks would have more time to finally relax at home, right?

But as the Adaptive Sports USA 2017 Junior Nationals in Middleton, Wis., arrive this month, Jenks will be as busy as ever, continuing to give up her time, now making sure other people’s kids have high-quality opportunities for competition. She’ll be one of a corps of volunteers running the whole event.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t happen.

Unpaid Volunteers

The Junior Nationals, which run July 15–21, are being held in Middleton for the second straight year and are open to athletes ages 7–22 with physical disabilities, visual impairments and some intellectual disabilities. 

More than 250 athletes are expected to compete in events at Middleton High School, including archery, powerlifting, swimming, table tennis and track and field. Athletes at the Junior Nationals are classified according to functional ability — something else that requires volunteers. 

Just about everyone who has a role, like Jenks, is doing it for the love of sports and the sole reward of giving athletes a chance to compete.

“It’s pretty much 100 percent volunteer — I’m an unpaid volunteer,” says Gregg Baumgarten, the chairman of the board of Adaptive Sports USA, which puts on the event. “Everybody is basically a volunteer. It’s a huge undertaking, and we need a lot of volunteers both in planning and in implementation.”

Like Jenks, who will help coordinate medical coverage at the Junior Nationals, some of the volunteers have particular experience or skills they bring to the event. 

Marcy Thurwachter, a former college track coach, recently retired from the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, where she helped oversee cross-country and track, among other sports, as well as helping with tournament planning. 

Like Jenks, Thurwachter could be doing other things with her time now that she’s retired. And she still works as a track and field official at high school meets. Yet, in her spare time, she chooses to do more track and field organizing, helping recruit and coordinate officials, timers and others who will work the games and doing some officiating herself.

Last year, Thurwachter marked landing spots and recorded results in the long jump and was the wind gauge reader for track events. She does it because she loves the sport and being around athletes, something she’d missed from her coaching days during the time she was cooped up in an office as an administrator.

“A summer day with track and field is a good day,” she says.

Jenks also volunteers because she enjoys the interaction with athletes and their families.

“That’s what this is about, building those relationships,” Jenks says. “It’s a community of people who often don’t get that much support.”

No Experience Needed

But while Jenks and Thurwachter have spent a lot of time around sports, both only recently got involved in adaptive sports. Experience isn’t really needed.

The Junior Nationals need people to do all kinds of work, from making sure athletes arrive to a place for an event to helping record scores and even unusual jobs like retrieving arrows in archery. In wheelchair throwing events, someone may have to help secure the wheelchairs. 

“I was kind of a gofer,” says Phil Stuckey, who volunteered to help out at last year’s Junior Nationals with no experience working at adaptive sports events. 

In addition to fetching things, Stuckey helped out with timing in the swimming events. He was inspired by being around young athletes.  

“It was really nice to see these young folks. To see these kids do what they’re doing, it’s humbling,” Stuckey says. “It was really rewarding.” 

Stuckey, who lives in the Milwaukee area, has even made the event a family outing, with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Susan, also getting involved at last year’s Junior Nationals.

“Grandpa and grandma [Phil and Anne] were out at multiple venues for most of the week, and Susan and the grandkids came out to assist for a couple of days,” Baumgarten says. “A true family affair.” 

While many volunteers only work an event like Junior Nationals once a year, or even less, some go on to get heavily involved. That’s been the case for Jenks, who was in charge of this year’s Dairyland Games, which drew competitors from a few Upper Midwest states. Jenks believes local events are just as important for volunteers to get involved in as the nationals, if not more so, because they provide athletes a chance to compete without having to travel as far.

“I got a lot of positive feedback on how [a local event] has changed their life for the better, not only the athlete but the entire family, bringing the games here,” Jenks says.

But events like the Junior Nationals, which draw competitors from all over the country, are more challenging to staff than youth sports events of any kind that are for local competitors. In local events, family members of athletes and coaches and others connected to local competing clubs are often heavily involved. At the Junior Nationals, the competitors and their families only come into town for the competition. 

“So it’s primarily community members,” Baumgarten says.   

Recruitment Effort

An additional challenge in recruiting volunteers: the competition is during the work week. That means finding people who work for companies with a volunteer ethic is important, as are retirees like Stuckey
and Baumgarten.

“This is a labor of love,” says Baumgarten, who retired as a school principal in Arizona. “I’m blessed to have a good pension and be in a place where I can give my time and talents to these projects.” 

Students also are key.

“Madison is a university town, so we recruit a lot of volunteers from the schools,” Baumgarten says. “The University of Wisconsin, in Madison, will help Jenks with medical coverage of the events.”

It’s not just people who help out — businesses often get involved, donating or loaning equipment for events and sometimes sending staff out to help out as a group, Baumgarten says. 

Baumgarten noted that at the upcoming games, Safelite Auto Glass will be a sponsor, and the company will want to send its workers and adopt a venue. Such arrangements can be a fun bonding event for employees and provide a little community visibility.

The Junior Nationals also rely heavily on local volunteers like Jenks to help find those businesses. 

“Last year it was, ‘We need an entire set of weights — Olympic-quality weights,” Jenks says. “I knew an owner of a health club, so I said, ‘Hey, can we borrow some weights for two days?’ And he said, ‘Sure!’â€ٹ”

Whether they’re longtime volunteers in the local sports scene like Jenks and Thurwachter, or people like Stuckey who like to show up and help out at a fun event here and there, Jenks says all the volunteers ultimately have pretty much the same motivation: creating an enjoyable and memorable experience for the athletes.

“You do it for the smile on their face,” she says. “It’s truly that simple.”

For more information on the Junior Nationals, including volunteering, visit


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