Through the Special Olympics of Kentucky organization, regional softball champions were crowned Saturday afternoon at the Lone Oak Ballparks.
The West Kentucky Tigers, a team of athletes from the Paducah area, were one of four teams from the region to win regional championships on Saturday.
The Tigers will advance to next month's state tournament for the first time in their three years as a team.
"It's unbelievable to see their excitement," head coach Darrell Porter said. "It wants you want to come back for more."
The Tigers won 19-8 over the Owensboro Blasters in their championship game. Other teams competing in the four separate divisions came from the likes of Bowling Green and Hopkinsville. Thirteen teams among the four divisions played Saturday.
Softball is one of 15 sports that SOKY offers, but it's the most popular in western Kentucky, said SOKY program director Erin Young.
"This is their way of having competition," Young said. "They get to be included just like anyone else and get to play with other people of their ability. They are getting to do something they love and having the time of their lives."
Divisions are based on skill level, with some teams having players in their 60s all the way down to 8 years old - which is the age minimum to play Special Olympics sanctioned sports.
Young, who has been involved with SOKY for eight years, said it has been a joy to see athletes grow.
"You'll see athletes come in here at 8 years old and see them grow socially, physically and athletically," she said. "Being a part of that is an amazing feeling."
Porter got involved with the SOKY when his son decided to be a coach in the organization, and he stayed on even after his son's departure from the team.
The Tigers practice on Mondays behind Brooks Stadium, with Porter saying they are always looking for more players.
"We try to get as many people to come out as we can," he said.
The state tournament will be held Sept. 12-14 in Bowling Green. For more information about SOKY or to find out participation eligibility, visit www.soky.org.
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