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By Randy Kindred

Susan Kuborn says her 22 years of competing with Special Olympics Illinois have “changed my life.”

“I don’t think I’d be anywhere if I wasn’t in Special Olympics,” she said.

It’s no surprise, then, that Kuborn enjoys expressing thanks to those who make Special Olympics Illinois programs and competitions possible. The 32 year old from Rockford relishes her role on the Special Olympics Illinois Gratitude Team.

“We thank our donors for donating to Special Olympics Illinois,” Kuborn said. “We get an email list and a phone call list. If they don’t answer our calls, we email them.”

Kuborn made contact recently with Bloomington’s Dean Carr, senior vice president for Bank of America, a corporate sponsor for Special Olympics.

a man and woman posing for a picture

“Susan reached out with a phone call and left a nice voice mail, and followed up with an email,” Carr said. “I was really impressed with her using multiple forms of media for connection, which is something we all do in our daily lives.

“In the business world, people won’t take your phone call unless they know the number. So following up immediately with an email, I got both of them and it just impressed me. I felt I needed to respond to her.”

The connection led Carr to volunteering at this weekend’s Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament in Bloomington-Normal and introducing himself to Kuborn on Friday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Shirk Center.

“This is a really good reason to come out and volunteer,” Carr said of meeting Kuborn. “It’s really special.”

The two met shortly after Kuborn’s Rockford team posted a first-round victory. She has competed in multiple sports with Special Olympics Illinois, highlighted by participating in USA Games and World Games in 2019 in athletics (track and field).

Gratitude Team members are given seven donors to contact. The goal is to express thanks and, Kuborn said, encourage them to “come sponsor us or come support us at our next tournament.”

How much does she enjoy it?

“If one of our team members can’t do theirs, I will email and say, ‘Hey, I’m done with mine. I can pick up whoever needs help,’” she said.

Not every attempt to reach out goes smoothly. Kuborn expresses her gratitude anyway.

“You might get someone who says, ‘Oh, it’s not worth my time.’” she said. “It’s like, ‘All right. I’m sorry. I just wanted to say thank you for what you do.’”

Officially, They Love It

Bruce Reusz of Downers Grove and Jim Cole of Belleville have been sports officials for a combined 89 years. Paired together on Friday, they thoroughly enjoyed officiating at the State Basketball Tournament.

a man and woman posing for a picture

Reusz, 68, is completing his 49th year as an official. He also works grade school, high school and junior college basketball, but said none compares to Special Olympics Illinois.

“The biggest reward for me is this is all volunteer for us,” Reusz said. “Just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces, high-fiving each other and giving each other hugs … that’s more than enough pay.”

Cole, 70, has been a basketball official for more than 30 years and a baseball/softball umpire for 40.

“In high school and college we get paid, but that’s not the primary reason we do it,” Cole said. “If I did it just to get paid, I probably wouldn’t do it. If you don’t enjoy doing this, why are you out there?”

Patriots Strike Gold!

Geri Pasieka formed the Mighty Patriots program from District 102 in LaGrange 15 years ago. This weekend, her team earned a gold medal for the first time at the State Basketball Tournament.

The seventh and eighth graders prevailed in Junior Division 3. When the final buzzer sounded at Illinois State University's Horton Field House, they celebrated jubilantly on the court.

“They just did that,” Pasieka said of the enthusiastic celebration. “They’re an amazing team. I’m so lucky … so lucky that they’re my team.”

She choked up a bit, calling the moment “very special.”

a group of people in a gym

“I said to them, what warmed my heart out of everything was they were giving the other team the ball when they were that many points ahead,” Pasieka said. “They knew they would probably win. I said, ‘That is what we strive for.’ So that was my gold medal.”

Canine Companion

The tournament crowd included a three year old named Cooper, a service dog for competitor Leslie Cichocki of Lincoln-Way.

a dog with a plant in its mouth

Cichocki is a versatile athlete best known for swimming. She represented the United States in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, placing seventh in the 100-meter backstroke.

Cooper has become a regular at her competitions, no matter the sport.

“He’s been to swimming pools, he’s been to gyms, he’s been to softball,” said Ed Cichocki, Leslie’s father.

“And bowling alleys,” added her mother, Cheryl.

“He’s multisport,” Ed said.

 

Learn more about the 2024 State Basketball Tournament here, and view results when they're posted.

Click here to volunteer at an upcoming competition.