eNews Stories

New Staff – December 2015


The following person has joined Special Olympics Illinois:

Wisniewski,Kristen15Kristen Wisniewski has been named Manager of Business Development & Partnerships for Areas 13/18. She will work out of the Lincolnshire office and will be responsible for gaining new sponsors/business partnerships and generating revenue or budget-relieving programs for Special Olympics Illinois.

Before joining the team at Special Olympics Illinois, Wisniewski was an events and promotions representative at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  She had been a sales agent at Vivid Seats and had been a legal assistant at a law office.

Wisniewski received a bachelor’s degree in Entertainment Business from Oklahoma City University, where she was active on several sorority and university committees.

Record Number of Equestrian Athletes Compete at 2015 Fall Games


A record number of equestrian athletes – 146 – competed in five events at BraveHearts at the Bergmann Center as part of this year’s Fall Games. That number is up fivefold from a low of 28 athletes who competed in the sport in 1992.

Meggan Hill-McQueeney, President and COO of BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding & Educational Center, attributes the increase to better training of Special Olympics equestrian coaches and working to grow the sport so it’s safe, fun and a rewarding experience for the athletes.

2015FallGames-RH-HR-336“Special Olympics is a perfect tie with PATH (Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship) centers because it really gives those centers a place where their students can compete on an annual basis,” said Hill-McQueeney. “As the sport is proving itself as being a safe venue, and a fair and positive event, that’s just attracting more teams and agencies are bringing more athletes to compete in different events.”

Hill-McQueeney, who received the 2015 PATH International James Brady Professional Achievement Award, also believes that the annual equestrian competition at Fall Games gives athletes, coaches and all involved something to work toward each year. “When I think about Special Olympics, I always think about how many people there are behind the scenes supporting the horse – veterinarians, horseshoers, people giving them equine massages, nutritionists, dentists, people who braid their hair, groomers, exercisers, people who just keep them fit,” she said. “A day like Special Olympics is their peak day. A lot of people work with the horses to make sure that they’re going to do well come October for that special day for that athlete.”

While the Special Olympics athletes are the ultimate competitors, they couldn’t do it without the horses. Most horses that compete in Special Olympics are therapy horses and only

2015FallGames-RH-HR-337“The horse has something special to give to all of us, but especially to people with needs of many different types, whether it be physical or cognitive,” said Patrick “Paddy” McKevitt, who is Director of Operations for BraveHearts, a Special Olympics coach and 2015 PATH International Certified Professional of the Year Award recipient. “They really help people reach their true greatness. The added element of the horse and what it takes to achieve that skill set to go in the ring and compete with other athletes, it really is very empowering for anyone, especially someone who has a need or disability.”

A lot of the horses that come to Special Olympics are therapy horses.  According to Hill-McQueeney, only 1 percent of horses can meet the needs of becoming a therapy horse. “They need to be extremely tolerant of a rider’s needs and any adaptive equipment that’s used,” she said. “It takes a really, really special horse to hold it all together. These horses support the athletes emotionally – the horses really step up, just like a service dog would, that’s what a therapy horse does.”

Mighty was the first mustang to compete at Special Olympics equestrian events in Illinois

Mighty was the first mustang to compete at Special Olympics equestrian events in Illinois

One special horse that competed at Fall Games was Mighty. He was one of four wild mustangs adopted from the Bureau of Land Management’s Eagle Nevada herd in 2013 by BraveHearts. All four mustangs were gentled by local military veterans at BraveHearts.

“Mighty probably came in as one of the wildest and now he’s the gentlest,” said Hill-McQueeny. “We did a lot of training with him; he’s extremely acclimated with sounds and toys. He is a very quiet and safe horse.” Two Special Olympics athletes rode Mighty at Fall Games and earned silver medals for their efforts.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had a mustang at Special Olympics, so we’re really proud of him,” said Hill-McQueeney. “There’s no harder job than being a therapy horse and to think that a mustang has been able to accomplish that is just really amazing to think of the possibilities. That’s what Special Olympics is about – people and opportunities – and we did that with a mustang.”

Another special horse at this year’s Fall Games was Huff (pictured at top of page). A half Percheron horse (draft horse), Huff was the biggest horse competing at equestrian. Because of his quiet and gentle demeanor, Huff was named PATH Horse of the Year for the Region 7 of PATH International.

By Michele Evans, Director of Communications

Feedback Sought on New Programming Concept


Special Olympics Illinois is looking for family member and additional coach feedback on a new programming concept, the Player Development Model, recently introduced at the Area Fall Coaches Meetings. Take online survey on Player Development Model.

The hope is this participation option will better serve athletes who currently function at a lower ability level, in addition to transitioning Young Athletes. These are athletes not ready for full-fledged SOILL competition. Athletes who may be best suited for this model are individuals who need modification and may be between Motor Activity Training Program and traditional programs due to behavioral challenges or sensory sensitivities.

The Player Developmental Model would offer local challenge opportunities for specific sports. No entry scores would be needed. Athletes would receive a challenge award that would not be place specific and there would be no advancement to State competition. Physical coach assistance would be allowed. Some potential sport and event offerings are:

Team Option: (Basketball)

  • 3 vs 3  / 5 vs 5
    – 1 or 2 player Unified Development Partner – partner should be coach or Unified partner
    – Half-court option – lower hoop, shortened halves, no travel or double dribble calls

Individual Skills Option (Basketball)

  • Coach Assistance
  • Spot shot
    – 1 shot per spot
    – 4 spots
  • 10-meter dribble
    – Time stops regardless if athlete has control of basketball
    – No penalty for illegal dribble
  • Target pass – no change

Individual Sport Option: (Track and Field)

  • 10-meter walk – no gun start with coach assistance
  • 25-meter walk – no gun start with coach assistance
  • Tennis ball throw with coach assistance
  • Permissible to start and finish in different lane
  • Bullpen & Staging access for coaches

If you have comments or ideas to share in regards to the Player Development Model, please take a moment and share your feedback with us by completing a brief online survey.  Thank you in advance for your support.

New Staff – November 2015


The following person has joined Special Olympics Illinois:

Jordan Vose has been named the new Heartland/Area 6 Manager in Normal. The position is responsible for assisting Area Director Jill Bertelsen in managing Special Olympics activities including training, competition, fundraising and administration for the Area.

Vose,Jordan15Previously, Vose was the Heartland/Area 6 Management Trainee Intern. She assisted with fundraisers, competitions, volunteer management and outreach efforts.

After graduating from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, in 2014, Vose went straight to graduate school at Illinois State University in Normal, where she will  graduate with a Master’s of Business Administration in December.

Vose has been involved with Special Olympics since August 2014, when she began as a student worker assisting in Torch Run and promotion of Special Olympics Illinois.


Area News – November 2015


Area 3

More than 1,300 Athletes Receive Free Health Exams

Special Olympics Illinois hosted the 17th Annual MedFest on Nov. 10 at the United Center in Chicago. The United Center generously welcomed Special Olympics Illinois back for this event which provides people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to receive the sports physical required to participate in Special Olympics at no cost. More than 1,300 athletes received free exams from Advocate Medical Group doctors who donated their time to support this event. View photos from MedFest.

A Special Olympics athlete received a free vision exam at MedFest in Chicago

A Special Olympics athlete received a free vision exam at MedFest in Chicago

In addition to the physical exams, Opening Eyes has joined the MedFest event by offering athletes free eye exams. Opening Eyes is part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative which is a partnership between Lion’s Club International and Special Olympics Inc. Those athletes in need of prescription eyewear are given the glasses they need, all free of charge. The Illinois College of Optometry is a great partner for this portion of the event, recruiting volunteers and implementing the eye exams to those athletes interested in participating. Read More

Area 5

Celebrate the Season with Rosemont, MB Financial Park & SOILL

Start a new family tradition by joining Special Olympics Illinois and Light Up The Park with the Village of “Frozemont” on Friday, Nov. 27.  The celebration kicks off as Mayor Bradly Stephenson, along with the help of a Special Olympics athlete, lights the official tree at MB Financial Park at 5:30 p.m.

Come early for ice skating – all skate rental proceeds will benefit the programs of Special Olympics Illinois and the 22,000 athletes supported throughout the state.  Special Olympics athletes and staff will be on site to collect Change for Champions, bring good cheer and celebrate the winter season.

Family friendly festivities include horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice sculpture viewing, and appearances by Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

MB Financial Park is located at 5501 Park Place, Rosemont.  To find out more about hours, special events and all the activities, please click here.

Area 6

Area Receives Grant from McDonald’s

Local McDonald's Marketing Director Jennifer Killian presents check to Heartland/Area 6 Director Jill Bertelsen and athlete Drew Bellinger

Local McDonald’s Marketing Director Jennifer Killian presents check to Heartland/Area 6 Director Jill Bertelsen and athlete Drew Bellinger

Special Olympics Illinois Heartland/Area 6 received a a $7,500 Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois grant from Robert and Julie Dobski, owners/operators of local McDonald’s restaurants, to fund fees and tournament costs for Sectional and State Bowling Tournaments held in Peoria.

By funding this tournament, the grant will allow many children and adults with intellectual disabilities greater opportunities by helping them improve their self-esteem, physical fitness and overall health.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois provides funds to not-for-profit organizations that directly help children reach their fullest potential in civic and social services, education and the arts and health and medical research.

Area 7


Ryan Feeney, back row center, with Thornwood High School students

Golfer Plays 100 Holes in Single Day and Raises $40,000

Ryan Feeney, a member of the Special Olympics Illinois Leader Council, reached out to family and friends and asked them to donate to Special Olympics Illinois based on the number of holes of golf he could play.

On Oct. 13, from sunrise to sunset, Ryan golfed 100 holes at the Olympia Fields Country Club and raised more than $40,000! He invited a group of students from Thornwood High School who participate in the Special Olympics Illinois golf program to join him. The athletes also enjoyed instruction from the golf pro followed by a delicious luncheon.

Area 9

A Slam Dunk to Start the Season for Area 9 Basketball Teams

Tip-off of Mattoon Middle School and Mattoon/Charleston Hornets game.

Tip-off of Mattoon Middle School and Mattoon/Charleston Hornets game.

Special Olympics Illinois East Central/ Area 9 basketball teams kicked off the season Nov. 7 in a three-team round-robin competition held at St. Mary’s School in Mattoon.

These amazing teams – including the Effingham County Lightning, coached by Susan and Phil Zakutansky; the Mattoon Middle School, coached by Crystal Sparks; and the Mattoon/ Charleston Hornets, coached by Brad Duncan and Erin Siekmann – brought exciting competition and heart to the court, as family and fans of the athletes cheered on their favorite team. Read More

Area 13

Area 13 Holiday Dinner

Join the Special Olympics Illinois athletes of Northeastern/Area 13 at the annual Holiday Dinner on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Arboretum Club in Buffalo Grove. Starting at 6:30 p.m., the event will include dinner, a silent auction, live auction, raffle and live speed painting by Elliott from Art Beat Live.

Tickets for the Holiday Dinner are $45 for individuals or $450 for a table of 10. Purchase tickets online by Nov. 19. The Holiday Dinner is a great opportunity to give back to Area 13 athletes.