Movie premier glamour made its way across the state when Special Olympics Illinois athletes, parents, coaches, and members of the community walked the red carpet, posed for photos, and saw screenings of the new movie, “Champions.”

“Champions” is a sports comedy film and an English-language remake of a 2018 Spanish film of the same name, according to IMDb. The movie stars Woody Harrelson as a temperamental, minor-league basketball coach who, after an arrest, must coach a team of players with intellectual disabilities as community service.

On Wednesday, March 8, the Rosemont Police-Fire Public Safety Department came out to celebrate Special Olympics Illinois athletes as well. For Officer Bryan Otte, it was a night well deserved for the athletes. “It’s great to put them on a platform showcasing their talents,” Otte said. “Seeing them happy is fantastic.”

Officer Katie Hamersley added that the relationship between Special Olympics Illinois and law enforcement is unique. “They truly appreciate who we are and what we do,” Katie said.

Region B athletes, Grayson Deeney and Riley Hoffman, said they appreciated the support of the community. Both went to the 2022 USA Games and won gold competing in flag football. Riley said he gets excited seeing the lights of public safety department vehicles at Special Olympics Illinois events. “They always come here for us,” Riley said.

For Grayson, the entire night was extraordinary. “It was cool,” Grayson said. “I always dreamed of doing something like this, walking the red carpet. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

In Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana, athletes and Unified pairs attending both the State Basketball Tournament and the IHSA Unified State Basketball tournament, respectively, were also able to enjoy a screening of “Champions.”

a group of men holding drinks

Region E athlete, Joshua Bell, won bronze with his team at the 2023 State Basketball Tournament. For him, “Champions” combined his three favorite things—inclusion, athletes, and basketball. “Inclusion is important to me,” Joshua said, “And I can’t wait to see Special Olympics athletes on the big screen. I especially am excited to see the basketball scenes.”

Cindy Villafuerte is the Chief Financial and Diversity Officer at Special Olympics Illinois as well as a member of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) committee. Cindy said movies like “Champions” are why she is so passionate about the Inclusion Revolution. “When a sense of belonging is nurtured, we can contribute to building a more inclusive, tolerant, and enriched society for the benefit of all – both with and without disabilities,” she said, “This movie helps promote this atmosphere.”

To learn more about Special Olympics Illinois, please click here. To view a trailer of the movie “Champions” please click here.