Special Olympics Illinois Celebrates Everyday Heroes in Central Illinois

Special Olympics Illinois recognized its everyday heroes in the Central Illinois region at the 2014 Hero Awards reception on June 27 at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal. These awards were given to a person, family, group or business that has demonstrated exemplary commitment to SOILL, strengthening communities and improving the quality of life for SOILL athletes.

The award-recipients include Greg Stephenson, Marie Reitmeier, Mary Loyd, Roger Perkins, Roger Anderson and Knights of Columbus 4179, Kathleen O’Connell, Dr. Lindsay Bondurant, Dr. Jim Harms, Illinois Wesleyan University, Illinois State University Horton Field House Crew, and Jeff Price and the El Paso Police Department.

Greg Stephenson and Family

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2416Greg started volunteering his time as an athletics and basketball chaperone/assistant coach for the local school program in Canton where his wife is a principal. He came to love working with the athletes and families and later got his entire family involved including his wife, two sons and his daughter. They are all still involved eight years later.

A few years ago, the Special Olympics Athletic Director in Canton moved out of the Area leaving the local group without someone in charge. No one came forward for the new position, so Greg stepped up and offered to take on the job and has been going non-stop ever since. He has organized his own basketball tournament working in conjunction with Cathy Betar, Area Director for Western/Area 4, while growing the Canton program. They now have two basketball teams and more than 20 athletes who participate in athletics and basketball.

Mike Wagner, Kristy Duncan and Athletes of Illinois Wesleyan University

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2418IWU’s relationship with SOILL dates back 14 years. Over that time they have hosted the Area 6 Spring Games from 2000-2010, State Basketball from 2002-present, District Basketball from 2011-present and Summer Games Aquatics from 2013-present. Not only do they provide SOILL with excellent facilities and staff during competitions, they support SOILL by providing volunteers, hosting sport experiences for Area 6 athletes, they invite SOILL athletes to scrimmage and to be recognized during their competitions and they participate in the Bloomington Polar Plunge.

IWU athletes, coaches and administration have embraced its relationship with SOILL and continue to do more each year. At the 2014 Polar Plunge the IWU Team had 43 Polar Plunge participants and raised the most money of any team at the Bloomington Plunge with $11,435. Their efforts were recognized by the NCAA Division III and were highlighted in their newsletter.

IWU athletes have hosted two sports experiences for Area 6 athletes over the past three years. Their most recent event had Illinois Wesleyan NCAA Division III athletes working with SOILL athletes in basketball, volleyball, floor hockey, soccer and track and field. Athletes received one-on-one training in each sport they got to experience.

In addition to hosting SOILL events they also allow local agencies to use the Shirk Center when it is available for practices.

Marie Reitmeier

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2421Marie has been a volunteer with SOILL Area 8 since 1983. She began as a coach with the Centennial High School Team and then became a full time committee member and office volunteer. In 1990 she became a key volunteer for various state events and continues to assist with those events to this day.

Marie is the true definition of a volunteer. She helps with everything from set up and registration to recruitment and troubleshooting to baking. In addition, she has assisted with outreach numbers, sponsorships and in-kind donations for Area 8.

Mary Loyd

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2423Mary has volunteered for SOILL Central/Area 10 for more than 20 years. She loyally volunteers for any task that needs to be done on a daily basis in the Area Office. She helps with coordinating the volunteers for all Area 10 events and takes on the large task of contacting and collecting donations that accompany the many prizes that are given away at the Decatur and Lincoln Polar Plunges.  Her help as a volunteer staging official at the Poplar Grove Special Olympics Illinois Equestrian venue helps to keep the event on track.

Mary is a retired Special Education teacher, however, she still works part time in the Moweaqua Assumption school district and travels many miles as a volunteer for a dog rescue program. She faithfully follows through with every task she is asked to do.

Roger Perkins

roger goodRoger has been a volunteer with SOILL Starved Rock/Area 16 for more than 40 years.  He is involved in every aspect of the Area 16 program from the planning to implementation stages.

If it needs to be done, Roger is always there to make sure the task gets completed from designing T-shirts and fliers, preparing score sheets and other event related items, loading/unloading event transportation vehicles, and serving as a key volunteer at all Area competition and fundraising events.  Roger has also participated in many District and State events helping out wherever needed.

Rodger Anderson and the Knights of Columbus 4179

rodger andersonWithout these gentlemen, there would not have been a Springfield Lake Polar Plunge. Roger and his team used chainsaws, backhoes and heavy chains to clear out a chunk of frozen lake and then ran pumps 24 hours a day for two weeks to allow for the Plunge. By Plunge Day, brave plungers could wade out up to their chests and the event raised more than $85,000 this year.

Dr. Lindsay Bondurant

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2425Dr. Bondurant has worked very hard to expand the Healthy Hearing programs here in the State of Illinois for the past four years. She has provided screenings at both the State Basketball and Summer Games events. She also helped to move the program forward so that SOILL was able to get vouchers for free hearing aids and follows-up to ensure they are able to find a provider who will assist with the fitting. Dr. Bondurant was there for the first hearing aid fitting and helped SOILL to recognize the company who provided these devices.

In addition, Dr. Bondurant has been instrumental in getting the Lion’s Club hearing van to come to the SOILL Summer Games event so that they can offer a more complete screening for those who need it. Dr. Bondurant is constantly looking for more ways she can get involved and help with the program, and to that end, she plans to provide hearing screenings to Young Athletes for the first time in Illinois this summer. She has even solicited free giveaways and spends some of her own money on purchasing items to make sure the athletes receive the best care they need.

Dr. Jim Harms

harms2Dr. Harms has been involved with SOILL since his daughter, Johanna, began participating in 2003. During that time, he has volunteered as a photographer for many events (Polar Plunge, Spring Games and Area Bowling) in Eastern Prairie/Area 8 and has even taken photos at state Summer Games.

An orthopedic surgeon in his professional life, Dr. Harms has had an interest in photography and has shared his skills in photography by capturing Johanna’s participation, plus those of her agency and others in Area 8. He was among the first volunteer photographers to receive a permanent SOILL Volunteer Photographer name badge. He has shared his photos with Area and State staff and they have been posted to the organization’s Flickr site.

Chief Jeff Price and the El Paso Police Department

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2426Chief Price and the El Paso Police Department have been involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run for more than 10 years.  Chief Price has made Special Olympics a priority among his department and this small but mighty group truly exemplifies the grassroots effort of the LETR.

This department accepted the 2012 Flame of Hope Award for being among the highest law enforcement fundraising departments in the state.  With hundreds of departments in the state raising money and awareness for the Torch Run, El Paso PD proved you do not have to be a large department to make a difference.  This three-man police department organized fundraisers, attended the International Torch Run conference, volunteered at local SOILL events and engaged others in the community to become connected to the Torch Run.

For the last several years, Chief Price, Officer Bryan Clark and Sargent David Duncan have organized a Trivia Night which has successfully raised thousands of dollars for the Torch Run.  Teams of 10  rush to get their entries in to test their wits and enjoy a fun evening out, as this popular event sells out early each year.

Chief Price is a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.  Each year, the Torch Run hosts two fundraising auctions which are held in conjunction to the ILACP Conference and Expo.  Chief Price and Officer Clark can be depended upon to not only volunteer for set- up and auction check out, but they also secure auction items for the event.

Chief Price and the El Paso PD can often be found assisting the Torch Run team throughout the year at local events.  They are an important part of both the Torch Run Kick- off and the State Summer Games.  They help move merchandise and organize the all- important packing day in February and are a part of the Final Leg into the Opening Ceremonies at Hancock Stadium at Illinois State University in June.

Illinois State University Horton Field House Crew

2014CentralRegionHeroes-ME2445Adam Southwick, Keith Smith, Dave Willert, Paul Crawford, Lucas Roach, Jonathon Dorrell, Tim Sulaski and Zach Collins make up the ISU Horton Field House crew. They have been instrumental in partnering with SOILL staff in planning, organizing and conducting events held at the University.  The Field House Crew has been involved with SOILL more than 36 years. Over the years, the Field House Crew has made a tremendous effort in working with SOILL sports staff in planning phenomenal events.

The ISU Field House staff is the crew that makes it happen with every SOILL event held at their facilities.  Each person is dedicated to offering the best experience possible for everyone that attends SOILL events on their campus.  The ISU Crew strives to offer best-in-class events and represent ISU with professionalism and pride.  They want all attendees to have a great time and to take away fun memories of the event and of the University. The ISU Field House staff goes above and beyond their required duties to ensure that attendees have a positive experience.

SOILL is not just renting facilities for events.  The ISU Field House Crew is committed to every event and staff is constantly trying to figure out what can be done to improve events and make the experience better for attendees.  They take the initiative to help with event planning and make recommendations and changes to improve the athlete experience and to help streamline processes for SOILL staff and volunteers.  The Field House Crew has changed over the 36 years but none has been more committed or dedicated to the mission of SOILL than the current group.

Kathleen O’Connell

young athletesKathleen has worked with individuals with special needs for nearly 20 years. She has been a coach for SOILL for nearly 15 years and served as the Special Olympics Athletic Director for Unit 5 Young Athletes Program for the past six years. She also coaches her traditional athletes to compete for Gold in Unified bocce, basketball individuals skills, Unified soccer and athletics.

Since the summer of 2013, she has served as the State Youth Activation Committee (YAC) Chair. In this role she facilitated the activities at her local schools, led the student Committee Chairs and supervised all the students on the statewide committee.