This basketball season, Special Olympics Illinois will be using a full-court press to attract volunteers for its Area, district and state events.
With support from both the Illinois High School Association and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, Special Olympics Illinois is directly reaching out to IHSA member officials with the goal of raising awareness and increasing volunteerism across the state in all Special Olympics Illinois activities.
“The IHSA stands in full support of Special Olympics Illinois and strongly encourages IHSA licensed officials to do the same,” said Craig Anderson, executive director. “Much like the programs offered to our IHSA member schools, the programs sponsored by Special Olympics Illinois generate life-changing experiences for the participants and those who support those activities. I am confident that these volunteer efforts in support of Special Olympics Illinois will be with great reward.”
Volunteers are the foundation for Special Olympics Illinois. Today, however, their involvement is even more crucial because of not only higher costs to organize and conduct events, but also an increase in participation.
It’s a win-win outcome for everyone involved. The money saved through volunteerism enables Special Olympics Illinois to improve existing and/or add programs and services, and, most importantly, provides children and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to receive the same level of experienced officiating that elementary and high school programs expect.
This recruiting initiative is tipping off with basketball and will eventually make its way into other sports. This fall, with the help of Bob Reczek from Mokena and Jerry Blum of Lake Zurich, Special Olympics Illinois is reaching out to dozens of referee associations across the state — making personal speaking appearances or asking that they show a video and distribute volunteer information cards.
Those information cards will be collected on-site and sent back to Special Olympics Illinois Vice President of Sports Training and Competition Tracy Hilliard, who will oversee a master database of interested volunteers and then utilize this contact list when scheduling the annual State Basketball Tournament in Bloomington-Normal in March. The information will also be shared at the Area level so that they can also tap into the pool of volunteers for their respective games and tournaments.
“Without question, officials throughout the state of Illinois make the game better for student-athletes and coaches,” said Jim Tracy, executive director for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. “They do this with a love of the game and a commitment to helping people. Even though they may not hear it very often, their efforts are greatly appreciated. At this time, I would respectfully ask that all officials consider giving back even a bit more to a very worthwhile cause. Special Olympics basketball has a great need for volunteer officials to work their games throughout Illinois. Please consider donating a few hours of time to help make the game better for some very special athletes. I truly believe that those who volunteer will get back so much more than they could possibly give in working with these Special Olympics athletes.”
While Reczek has a special needs son, Matt, who participates in multiple sports with Lincolnway Special Recreation Association in New Lenox, Blum said he “got hooked” more than 25 years ago when he officiated his first Special Olympics games. Blum admits he was apprehensive at first, but quickly realized there wasn’t anything to worry about and that his volunteering was a “life-changing, life-lasting experience.”
“I remember one time when I put my hand up to stop the game clock and an athlete from the nearby bench, not knowing why I had my palm open, came up and high-fived me. And I can’t begin to tell you how many times athletes have come up after a game to give me a hug, many of whom came from the losing team,” recalled Blum. “Where else would you see that happen?”
“Not everyone who wears the stripes can make it downstate and work the Illinois High School Association or Illinois Elementary School Association championships, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work a state finals in your lifetime. This is your chance,” said Reczek, who with Blum were volunteer referees for basketball at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. “There are so many opportunities on all levels and no one will be turned away. It’s a really special and rewarding experience to serve these special athletes and I encourage everyone to give it a try.”