Come Monday, Michael Tom will be in Lincoln, Neb., competing for Chandler's flag football team in the Special Olympics.

That is, if he can escape all the superfluous demands that come with being a star.

In the week leading up to the event, the 27-year-old center has done a pair of interviews with reporters and will be one of the guests of honor at a sendoff party at U.S. Airways Center on Saturday before the team makes the voyage to the Midwest.

"My family is calling me Mr. V.I.P.," Tom said. "My sister gave me that name when we first found out I was going."

Tom, who is mildly mentally challenged, has gone on trips before, but none as far and with as much fanfare as this one.

"I'm very excited," he said.

Tom got his start with the Special Olympics when he was in junior high. In addition to flag football, he takes part in basketball, golf, floor hockey, track, swimming and bowling.

"When he was really little, he couldn't participate in the same sports that the neighborhood kids were doing," said Michael's mother, Harriet Tom. "He couldn't do those things. Since he's been with Special Olympics, he's turned into a really good athlete. It's just done wonders for him as far as developing his physical skill and providing opportunities to travel and meet people."

Michael raised enough money for the trip by sending out an e-mail to his co-workers at Rudy G. Bologna Elementary School, where he works as a crossing guard.

The message sent a link to a website where donations could be sent, and his trip was quickly funded.

The sendoff party will be just the beginning of the festivities. The athletes will stay in the dorms at the University of Nebraska and get preferred treatment throughout.

"They're treated just like the traditional Olympians," Harriet Tom said. "A team plane, limited contact (with family and friends) when they get there. They'll do it all."

Tom said he's looking forward to meeting the other teams and hanging out with his fellow Special Olympians.

When he returns, there will be plenty of eager listeners to hear about his trip.

Tom helps out in the special education classes at his work and shares a connection with the students.

"I've been told by his supervisors at the school that sometimes kids that are nonverbal or don't react to a lot of stimulus, they react to him," Harriet said. "For some reason, he can get a response from them. I don't know if they recognize a kindred spirit, or what it is."

He also volunteers at the Chandler Camp Challenge, a summer camp for children with physical or intellectual disabilities.

In fact, Tom already has some of them participating in sports with him. Down the road, Mr. V.I.P. might be passing on the torch.

"I like to help kids," Michael said, "and I like to put smiles on their faces."

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