"It's a very big experience and we're very happy to be able to go and we're gonna have a lot of fun and hopefully, come in first," smiles Brandon Whittemore of his team's next opportunity..

The Marion County Tigers prepare to become the Tennessee Tigers, and represent the state in the Special Olympics National Games next month in New Jersey.

"I can't wait! It's gonna be fun," says Tiger David Peoples

The tigers have plenty to play for, but are already facing an unexpected hurdle.The loss of one of their biggest boosters.

"It's hard," cries Holly Nunley. She couldn't say anything more about her father Dennis, the late husband of Tigers coach Phyllis Nunley.

"This has been a real hard time, I had planned this trip with these kids and stuff and I've been with them for 18 years coaching and stuff. I couldn't let the kids down, and my husband would'nt want me to let them down," says Nunley from the team's practice place at Whitwell Elementary.

Dennis, seen here in the background of  an earlier interview, was a bedrock of support for the team.

Beyond playing to represent the state, the Tigers are doing what any good team does, finding inspiration in adversity..

The Tigers say they are playing and dedicating this next game for Dennis.

"Because he was a big part of these kids too,  every one of them loved him and he cheered them on and was here for them," says his widow.

If now, in
spirit only.

The Tigers leave for the New Jersey Meadowlands June 14th.

They are still approximately $2,000 short of the travel expenses.

If you'd like to help, you can make a donation to Area 4 Special Olympics or by mail at P.O.Box 328, Whitwell, TN 37397