Daily Egyptian

Southern Illinoisans pull for Special Olympians (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Eric+Sparks%2C+of+Marion%2C+works+with+his+team+to+pull+a+Boeing+737+airplane+Saturday%2C+Sept.+24%2C+2016%2C+during+the+2016+Plane+Pull+at+Southern+Illinois+Airport+in+Murphysboro.+%28Ryan+Michalesko+%7C+%40photosbylesko%29
Eric Sparks, of Marion, works with his team to pull a Boeing 737 airplane Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, during the 2016 Plane Pull at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Eric Sparks, of Marion, works with his team to pull a Boeing 737 airplane Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, during the 2016 Plane Pull at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Eric Sparks, of Marion, works with his team to pull a Boeing 737 airplane Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, during the 2016 Plane Pull at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Shyanne Jasper

Southern Illinoisans played tug-of-war with a 60,000-pound airplane Saturday morning to raise money for the Special Olympics.

The Plane Pull is part of Law Enforcement Torch Run, a year-round series of events organized by law enforcement to raise money for special-needs athletes to participate in Special Olympics Illinois, SIU police Sgt. Chad Beights said. 

Beights said the event, like all of those organized through Torch Run, goes toward a good cause.

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“There’s a lot of athletes out here that you grow close with and you just take them in as your own and you can learn from them,” Beights said.

The 15 teams were split into two divisions: one for public service employees and the other for everyone else. As teams lined up on the runway in front of the nose of the plane, they were expected to pull the 60,000-pound craft 12 feet down the runway at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro.

In its first year in the region, the Plane Pull — which originated in Chicago eight years ago — raised more than $25,000, Beights said.

Teams were capped at eight members and required to raise a minimum of $50 per person. Private donors and local businesses sponsored athletes to participate in the event.

Even the Boeing 737 was a loaner donated by SIU’s aviation program, Beights said.

Ryan Michalesko
John Henley, of Marion, speaks to a crowd before the 2016 Plane Pull at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. Henley was designated as this year's face of Special Olympics Illinois. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

The Wright Stuff, a team participating in the open division, completed the task in 11.28 seconds.

“We didn’t expect to move the plane and it was a lot of fun,” said Alice Howe, the team’s captain. “This was such an awesome experience to help the athletes.”

After trophies were given to the three best-performing teams, Beights reflected on the success of the event, saying he hopes to install it as an annual tradition in southern Illinois.

“As long as aviation is on board, we will be back again next year,” Beights said.

Staff writer Shyanne Jasper can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @sjasper_DE.

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