2015 STAR OF THE YEAR: Missouri City resident helps special needs athletes in Fort Bend
By Michael Sudhalter
When Larry Lobue was just out of college, he enjoyed an opportunity to work with USA Track & Field as a master photo finish reader.
Lobue, now a 58-year-old Missouri City resident, was one of the guys who determined who crossed the finish line first and certified world records.
The gig took him all over the nation and to Olympic Games in Los Angeles and Atlanta, respectively.
He loved the chance to meet and visit with the likes of Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell, but all of that excitement paled in comparison to the exhilaration he felt after volunteering at a Special Olympics Meet in the mid 1980s.
“The kids are second to none,” Lobue said. “If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will. I think I get more out of it than the kids do. Competing in the Special Olympics gives the athletes an opportunity to participate, travel and form friendships.”
Today, Lobue is one of the most involved volunteers in Special Olympics in the entire Houston area. His efforts on behalf of special needs athletes in Fort Bend have earned him the Star of the Year honor in 2015.
Lobue is one of the lead volunteers for Special Olympics Area 22, which spans from West Columbia to La Porte and includes Fort Bend.
He coaches basketball, softball, volleyball and track & field and has led The Arc of Fort Bend’s Special Olympics efforts as well and earned the Arc’s “Special Recognition Award” earlier this year.
“Larry is just a solid volunteer,” said Allan Harris, a board member for the Arc of Fort Bend. “He understands what volunteering is all about, and he’s easy to work with. He’s very patient and he communicates with the kids. I think all of them love him. His great asset is patience. I struggle with that myself, and I watch him and say ‘boy, that’s a patient person there’.”
About a decade ago, Lobue and some other volunteers worked with the First Colony Little League to start a Challenger Division “Dream League” for mentally and physically challenged athletes.
The league continues to grow, but it enjoyed one of its greatest highlights last season when it was invited to bring a team to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Each year, there are two teams selected out of 900 to play in the Challenger Division Exhibition Game.
Lobue, as a board member for “the Dream League”, helped raise $86,000 so 15 athletes, their parents and one friend each, could make the trip and play before 12,000 fans.
Sugar Land Mayor Jimmy Thompson has noticed Lobue’s dedication with the Dream League and has commended his efforts on its behalf.
“Larry is a very unassuming person that tirelessly volunteers his personal time to the mental and physically challenged youth of our community,” Thompson said. “He was a leader in taking the Dream League group to Williamsport this year as only one of two teams in the USA — an experience both the parents and kids will never forget.”
While in Williamsport, the Dream League athletes formed a special friendship with athletes from the Pearland Little League World Series team, which cheered on the First Colony Dream League athletes.
Before the Dream League team left for Williamsport, the Sugar Land Skeeters gave the team a big sendoff celebration.
“I thought there’d be a few players, but the whole team and all of the coaches showed up,” Lobue said.
Lobue said the Skeeters have been excellent community partners, and they host a Dream League game each season at Constellation Field.
“Larry is easy to work with, we can bounce ideas off each other and he’s open to anything,” said Chris Parsons, Director of Special Events for the Skeeters.
Lobue, a former business owner who now works as a regional sales manager in the security industry, is a Houston native who competed in the 400 meters for the University of Texas.
He graduated from UT and moved to Fort Bend in 1986.
“I just liked the area and the whole community atmosphere,” Lobue said.
Lobue and his late wife, Kathleen, raised two children, Larryn, 30, and Steven, 28.
Kathleen passed away from Cancer in 2013, and that has been a challenge for Lobue, but he relies on the strong faith they built as a couple while attending Riverbend Church together.
“Faith is very calming,” Lobue said. “I think it helps a lot with how you treat others and what you get back. I get ten-fold back from the kids from what I give.”
As a volunteer, Lobue doesn’t have much free time, but he enjoys golfing, hunting and rooting for UT Athletics. He’s already working on building another successful season for the Dream League in 2016.
Fort Bend County Commissioner James Patterson, a longtime volunteer with the Arc of Fort Bend, summed up Lobue’s efforts eloquently.
“Larry exemplifies the statement — ‘still water runs deep’,” Patterson said. “He is there and working but never makes a noise — just quiet leadership.”