Unsung Hero: Rich and Jane Henley

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By Ashley Smith
By Josue

HERRIN -- A local girl's softball team is headed to the state tournament for Special Olympics. This is the first and only all female team in the entire state.

"This really keeps us young! It keeps us going it's what we like to do, we're retired, this is our retirement job," said Coach Jane Henley.

Jane and Rich Henley started a local Special Olympics agency about five years ago when their son, who has down's syndrome wanted to get involved in power lifting. There was no coach at the time so they stepped up to help him.

"The more it grows the bigger the good feeling we get no matter how tired we are, no matter how tall my grass is," said Head Coach Rich Henley.

"It's turned into our passion. Once we saw what it did for our son and the changes it made in his life," said Jane, "We hear him say a lot 'I like my life!'"

Nearly 30 Intellectually disabled athletes participate in sports ranging from baseball and softball to bocce ball and snow shoeing!

"I've made friends with a lot of the girls on this team," said player Marisa Pendergast.

Marisa Pendergast plays first base and says she knows the team has improved this season.

"They're not just learning sports, they're learning a lot of life lessons," said Rich.

"I see confidence growing, I see the community recognizing them a lot more," said Jane.

Some of the athletes participate in multiple sports at once. That means spending a lot of time with their coaches.

"He's a pretty cool guy!" said Katrina Valliant, "He showed us the basic stuff pitching and throwing and stuff."

"He's always been positive, nothing negative," said Marisa.

The team is responsible for funding their own trip to Decatur for the state championship, estimated to cost a few thousand dollars.

"The parents have been out asking for donations, having the fundraisers, we just had a car show, we had a car wash, we've done the bucket brigade, we've done everything," said Jane.

Win or lose, the team says this season has been a success.

"After the first practice we walked away and we said 'oh my God what have we gotten ourselves into? Oh my goodness this is going no place,'" remembers Rich, "But they have gotten so much better."

The Lightning Bugs are hoping to light up their competition on the field next week. They will play Saturday the 14th and Sunday.
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