Marissa Schletzbaum was on the massive Jumbotron at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the coin flip prior to the Big 12 Championship Game.

PLEASANTVILLE — After shining in competition for many years, Marissa Schletzbaum enjoyed her time in the spotlight Saturday as she was honored as the Big 12 Special Olympics Female Athlete of the Year.

Schletzbaum, 24, got the celebrity treatment at the Big 12 Conference’s championship football game in Arlington, Texas. Celebrities, she discovered, don’t have to stop for red lights, what with a police motorcycle escort leading her bus to AT&T Stadium.

“I was excited,” she said. “It was an honor to meet all the people that were there!”

And although her two shining moments— taking part in the ceremonial pre-game coin flip and receiving her award on the field — weren’t broadcast on national TV, she still found a bit of fame. Being on the stadium’s immense Jumbotron screen in front of more than 83,000 fans gets you noticed, said her mother, Maureen.

“Last night we ate at a Cracker Barrel in Oklahoma and the waitress said ‘Aren’t you the Special Olympics athlete of the year?’” Maureen recalled. “She had been to the football game!”

Schletzbaum game home with plenty of souvenirs to add to her Special Olympics memorabilia. The referee gave her a commemorative coin after the coin toss, and she and male honoree Drew Bowen of Oklahoma received personalized rings.

Shletzbaum and her entourage returned to Pleasantville late Monday. She said she’d taken a couple of naps to keep pace over the weekend, but she won’t get to rest on her laurels. Practice for the state dance competition starts soon, her mom reminded her. She also competes in bowling, track and bocce.

“She’s had a lot of great experiences in her life. Special Olympics has offered a lot of opportunities. We’re thankful for that,” said Maureen, who coaches the local Special Olympics team.

Maureen encouraged families of people who want to compete in Special Olympics to call her at 515-848-3822. She appreciates the games’ supporters and said she hopes more athletes will have experiences like her daughter has.

“She’s bee thrilled about it!” Maureen said. “She just felt really honored about being there to represent Special Olympics athletes.”

Pat Finan is the editor of the Knoxville Journal-Express and Pella Chronicle. He can be reached at 641-295-0624 or via email at or