Special Olympics Minnesota invitationals are local competitions organized from start to finish by teams and delegations. The new competition model has grown over the past several years and has taken off across the state in 2024. Invitationals offer more opportunities for athletes in addition to SOMN’s regularly scheduled regional and state competitions.

We talked to a few key volunteers who recently organized invitationals to get their perspective on the purpose and importance of these competitions!

Invitationals prepare athletes for state competitions.

Denise Tschida and Michaela Chelberg are leaders at Mini-Hops Gymnastics (MHG) and key volunteers within the Mini-Hops Special Olympics delegation. Together, they hosted a fantastic SOMN gymnastics invitational on Sunday, May 5.

“Mini-Hops Gymnastics is a non-profit dedicated to giving athletes of all abilities equal opportunities for a top-rated competitive experience,” says Michaela. “I want sustainable opportunities for all the athletes we train here at MHG, and hosting this invitational was a great way to accomplish this.”

The invitational was the perfect opportunity for Special Olympics Minnesota athletes to prepare and hone their skills ahead of the state competition in June. Both Denise and Michaela agree that while hosting an invitational is a lot of work, it is incredibly rewarding for everyone involved.

“It’s always great to have a meet prior to a big competition to prepare our athletes,” says Denise. “It’s hard work, but it is well worth it to prepare these athletes for competition. If there are delegations that are interested but haven’t yet hosted an invitational, you can do it!”

Organization is key when hosting an invitational. The planning process involves communicating with other delegations, securing experienced judges, preparing score sheets and collateral, setting up equipment, coordinating volunteers and working through many other details. Denise and Michaela worked together with their volunteers to accomplish these tasks, and their efforts led to a successful day for the athletes and coaches involved.

The parking lot at the Mini-Hops facility in Plymouth was packed on the day of competition. Upon walking in, it was immediately evident that it was a Special Olympics Minnesota event. The SOMN brand was on full display, the spectator stands were full and there were gymnastics events happening across the state-of-the-art gym. Four delegations attended the invitational and nearly 70 gymnasts competed.

Katherine Lew has been volunteering with Special Olympics Minnesota for over seven years, serving in various leadership roles. She currently serves as an event liaison, representing SOMN at invitational competitions and ensuring everything goes smoothly the day of the competition.

“Invitationals are great because they provide more flexibility for participants,” says Katherine. “They don’t necessarily have to worry about qualifying times like they would at a regional competition, which helps athletes focus more on the fitness and social aspects of sports.”

Katherine encourages people to think outside of the box for invitationals. “Delegations can make them competitive or more recreational, too. For example, pickleball isn’t currently an official SOMN sport, but if a delegation was really interested in it, they could host a pickleball invitational. There’s a lot of room for creativity and personalization,” says Katherine.

Invitationals showcase inclusion to the greater community.

Shawn Perez, Special Olympics Minnesota coach and Unified Champion Schools educator, has hosted an annual soccer invitational at Watertown-Mayer High School for the past four years. At this year’s invitational, there were more than 180 athletes and Unified partners in attendance from three schools.

In addition to providing an opportunity to play soccer—a sport not typically offered by SOMN—the invitational is an excellent opportunity to engage students, school staff and fans in new and exciting ways. “This event is really student-led,” says Shawn. “Students take ownership of their designated areas during planning and on the day of, and everyone is really proud to be a part of it.”

 Shawn explained that not everyone in Watertown-Mayer’s Unified club participates in sports, so hosting an event of this size is a great opportunity to get student leaders involved in a competition from start to finish. Shawn helps each student find a role that is best for them, from running the scoreboard to planning concessions to making posters and more.

“It is so fun to see the friendships and relationships formed at Unified events, even between schools!” says Shawn. “It’s just a great way to show what Unified is all about. The whole school gets involved, and teachers and students who aren’t typically involved in Unified get a taste of the joy and camaraderie that it creates.”

Host your own invitational competition today!

Invitationals provide flexibility, personalization and the chance for athletes to participate in a wide range of sports and activities. Interested in learning more about invitational competitions or hosting your own? Please reach out to Taylor Holewa, [email protected].

Other recent and upcoming invitationals include:

  • Dance in Mankato
  • Softball in Grand Rapids
  • Basketball in St. Clair
  • Gymnastics in Duluth
  • Cornhole in Inver Grove Heights and Rochester