Sports Ambassadors Stories

Apolo Ohno Podcast Interview


 

Learn what what Apolo Ohno learned from sports and more on this episode of Special Chronicles!


9th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball All-Star Game


 

By Daniel Smrokowski, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger & Special Olympics Illinois Athlete Leader

From L to R: Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, Nate Wade (SOCO), Carrie Nykiel (SOIL) and Horace Grant

On Friday, February 14, I had an opportunity to be an athlete reporter at the 9th annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game at NBA All-Star 2020 in Chicago. I attended this event, along with my SSIGM mentor & Chief Marketing Officer from Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) Chris Winston and two other marketing & communications staff from SO Illinois, Alex & Bridget. During the Unified game, we sat courtside to watch the exciting game. I was honored and grateful to attend this star-studded sporting event, especially since basketball is one of my favorite sports in Special Olympics to compete in.

Here I am posing with my SOILL colleagues. From L to R: Chris, Alex and Bridget.

This Special Olympics Unified Game took place at the Wintrust Arena on Chicago’s south side during NBA All-Star Week, right before the Celebrity Game. In case you missed the thrilling #NBAAllStar2020 Unified game in the Windy City, the action was streamed live on the NBA’s Facebook page.

We had ten fellow Special Olympics athletes from across our Special Olympics North America Region, one athlete from Special Olympics Belgium (SO Europe-Eurasia Region), and one athlete from Special Olympics South Korea (Special Olympics East Asia Region). The teams were divided into two — the East Team (Home) and the West Team (Away). Both teams consisted of five Special Olympics athletes per team and celebrity Unified partners. Each team also had volunteer celebrity coaches. The number “24” was branded on the upper left breast of every athlete’s uniform in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, former L.A. Lakers professional athlete.

Sean Annan from SO British Columbia takes on Injae Kim from SO Korea.

Sean Annan, fellow Special Olympics athlete, traveled from his home which is 20 miles from Vancouver, Canada. Sean regularly competes with his team from Special Olympics British Columbia in his Langley program. In addition to basketball, Sean competes in golf. He also competes on a regular softball team.

“It’s a once-in-a-life-time [experience],” said Sean in a post-game interview near the locker rooms. “It’s really special meeting new people from different places [and] I’m having fun, that’s what it’s all about.”

Watch my full postgame interview with Sean on SCTV, the digital television platform on Special Chronicles LIVE: https://youtu.be/iUbVDrZqka0

Post-game interview with hometown hero Carrie Nykiel.

Directly from our home state of Special Olympics Illinois, USA, fellow Special Olympics athlete Carrie Nykiel didn’t have to travel far as she competes right in the Chicago area. Carrie competes in mostly every sport including volleyball, softball, and powerlifting.

“It was an amazing, great experience, [and] first time doing it,” said Carrie during a postgame interview after an excellent star-studded Unified basketball game during the NBA All-Star 2020.

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Carrie LIVE from the Wintrust Arena on Special Chronicles LIVE and airing on SCTV: https://youtu.be/jGuB0lIxQeo

Posing for a pic with singer/songwriter Andy Grammer!

For those who have attended any of our many Special Olympics events, our movement is driven by more than 1.1 million volunteers donating their time and expertise. That’s true for Andy Grammer, triple-platinum singer/songwriter, who stepped up this year as a volunteer coach for the 2020 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball game.

Moments after the game, I had an opportunity to ask Andy about his experiences serving as a coach for this Special Olympics Unified Sports event.

“It’s the way it makes your heart feel,” said Andy about what the Inclusion Revolution means to him. “This is the best place to be.”

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Andy Grammer LIVE from Chicago on Special Chronicles LIVE — airing on SCTV and on SpecialOlympics.orghttps://youtu.be/bKOqlIszgOE

In memory of the late Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team who had passed away a few weeks prior to this year’s NBA All-Star Week, our Special Olympics Unified Game concluded in an exciting moment that paid tribute to Kobe.

Getting Chris Carter’s reactions to his game-winning steal and jump shot!

Christopher Carter, fellow Special Olympics athlete, traveled from Special Olympics Virginia, USA. Chris’ parents coach for Special Olympics and he says his family lives and breathes basketball. Pointing at the number “24” on his yellow-colored uniform, Chris said his favorite part of the game was a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

The score went back and forth in the fourth quarter and with less than 30 seconds left, Chris’ team was down three. After Unified partner Horace Grant scored to pull his team within one, Chris stole the inbounds pass and hit a baseline jump shot with 11 seconds left to seal the victory for his team.

“If it wasn’t for this number,” said Chris. “The game winning shot, of course, the gaming winning shot” was Chris’ favorite part of this year’s Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during the NBA All-Star Week.

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Chris Carter moments after his winning shot. Now Available to watch on Special Chronicles LIVE, airing on SCTV the Special Chronicles digital television platform, SCTV: https://youtu.be/ff3dI5onvtk

I have to agree that this inclusion moment was my favorite part, too. Amongst many celebrities, we were able to bring our Inclusion Revolution movement to the NBA and the world of professional sporting events. This is the way to be fully included. This is how we can truly live in a Unified world.

Whether we are playing sports or interviewing fellow athletes & celebrities off the court, we all win when we #ChooseToInclude and join the Inclusion Revolution.

Sign the Inclusion Pledge at: JoinTheRevolution.org

Congratulations to all on competing in a thrilling Unified game!


Kyle & Emma Hendricks: SOILL “Star Champion” Ambassadors


 

Special Olympics Illinois is proud to announce that Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks and wife, Emma, have officially signed on as “Star Champion” Ambassadors for the organization. Their ambassadorship journey began in May of 2017.

“We can’t wait to get out there and spread the word…and do anything we can to help!” Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs Pitcher.

In less than a year Kyle and Emma have helped raise over $25,000 to support 23,000 Special Olympics Illinois athletes.

[bg_faq_start]

Learn about Special Olympics Illinois, our upcoming events, fundraisers, & competitions!

About Special Olympics

Upcoming Signature Events:

State Competitions:

50th Anniversary Celebration July 17th- 22nd, 2018 :

[bg_faq_end]

[bg_faq_start]

Click here to see a few of their experiences with Special Olympics Illinois, we can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for the couple!

Hendricks – Celebrity Sweat Video Shoot

Hendricks – 50th Anniversary Town Hall

Hendricks – Voya “Invest in Something Special” Campaign

Hendricks – Couple donates wedding money to Special Olympics Illinois & PAWS!

Hendricks-Sugar Factory “Thank you Party”

Hendricks – Kyle’s Parents Attend Special Olympics Winter Games

Hendricks – Spring Training Surprise

Newsletters and Press releases:

[bg_faq_end]

Choosing a Fit Life: Every Day Counts

Choosing to live a healthy life can be hard for anyone. We asked Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, his wife Emma Hendricks and Special Olympics athlete Daniel Smrokowski, to share their motivations and daily routines to make health and fitness a priority in their lives.

https://medium.com/specialolympics/choosing-a-fit-life-every-day-counts-988909b964a7.

For additional information please contact:
Teresa Crudele-Seidel| Special Olympics Illinois | Sports Marketing Director
C: 312.405.7335 | E: tcrudele@soill.org


Flag Football, and Athletes, and Bears… OH YES!


 

The students and athletes at Hersey High in Arlington Heights have become pros at the concept of inclusion, so it only seemed natural to take their example to the next level and get some other pros involved, too…including players of The Chicago Bears at the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall.

In the summer of 2014, a flag football team for students with intellectual disabilities was started at Hersey High School by former coach, Craig Ameel along with the support of math teacher & coach of the varsity football team, Joe Pardun. Approximately 20 athletes were involved in the beginning and came from the Township High School District 214 Career Life Skills program for children with disabilities. Those athletes were paired with members of the school’s varsity football team, and Pardun said both sides found tremendous joy in the team.

“Just watching them bond- they’re all in school together and now know each other’s names,” Pardun said.

Fellow math teacher, John Dyer, jumped on board to help, which was only natural since he had already been running Special Olympics Illinois activities for students.  Dyer noted that basketball and track had been popular team sports for his athletes, so football was a natural addition.  Dyer also noted that the flag football team had “a couple of die-hards who are like yes, they love the (Chicago) Bears.”  Dyer now runs this program today.

Flag football has been around with Special Olympics, as a national organization, for over a decade while Special Olympics Illinois hosted its first tournament in 2014. In 2015, Hersey High School hosted its first tournament. In 2016, the Chicago Bears organization provided memorabilia items to Hersey High School’s tourney, but that obviously was not enough to satisfy the craving to become involved even more, so in 2017 the Special Olympics Illinois Flag Football tournament moved from the high school to Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall and was held on April 8.  The Hersey Varsity football player/coaches, Coach Dyer, and the flag football team of Hersey High were part of the approximately 140 athletes and 50 coaches representing 15 teams that played in the tournament that day.  Joining them were current Chicago Bears players Sherrick McManis and Charles Leno, Jr., as well as former players Tom Thayer, Rashied Davis, and Garrett Wolfe.

Back at Hersey High, students with intellectual disabilities and without having become closer.  Their jovial interaction has become a regular sight in the halls, in the lunchroom, and on the playing field.  Their example is one to be followed because, in this case, it helped land these talented athletes, dedicated coaches, and nearly 200 others on the field at Halas Hall.  What’s next?  Indeed, the possibilities are #SOLimitless.

Video Recap