2014 Outstanding Coaches


Barb and Larry Needham of Pekin have been named 2014 Special Olympics Illinois Outstanding Coaches of the Year. They were honored at a reception June 13 before the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games Opening Ceremonies at Illinois State University in Normal.

Barb & Larry NeedhamThe Outstanding Coach Award recognizes the coach who best demonstrates the true ideals of coaching profession, who leads by example and expects athletes to set and strive to reach goals. As a coach of Special Olympics Illinois athletes, he or she must demonstrate both technical skills and personal commitment to the physical, social and psychological well-being of the athletes.

Fans, friends, volunteers, fundraisers, supporters and coaches are just a few words that can be used to describe the Needhams.  For more than 26 years, they have dedicated their lives to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities.  In 2002, Barb and Larry Needham won Outstanding Volunteers of the Year.

It is the passion, strength and courage that they bring with their involvement that has made a world of difference to so many athletes over the years.  The Needhams are more than just coaches.  They are friends, confidants and supporters to every athlete they coach. They not only coach them in sports, but also in life.  It is by their example and strength that the athletes are able to overcome some of their most trying moments.

Barb coached speed skating with Team Illinois for the World Winter Games in 1989, 1997, 2005 and 2009. Larry was a speed coach for Team USA for the 2001 World Winter Games and was the Figure Skating coach for Team USA in 2009. In addition to coaching, Barb Needham has been the speech coach/mentor for athlete Judith Rich-Smith since 2005. She was also Judith’s mentor when Judith was a Special Olympics Illinois Board Member from 2010-2012. The Needhams also help with other Areas with their track and field competitions, District basketball and Area Bowling Qualifiers.

The Needhams are good coaches, great listeners and are always there for their athletes, said nominators for the award.  They are the epitome of what every coach, not just in Special Olympics but in all sports, should be.