Region Fundraising Events Stories

Johnston City School District Takes on the Southern Ducky Derby Dash


This summer, the Johnston City School District jumped at the chance to give back to their community.

The Johnston City High School Business Club has been involved in Special Olympics Illinois for several years and will be a part of selling ducks for the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash set to take place at the Du Quoin State Fair on September 1.

“Selling ducks is a great way to help support Special Olympics Illinois and get our students and community involved to help,” says Coach Patti Parks.

“Our cheerleaders and student councils have sold ducks to raise awareness for Special Olympics Illinois, and raise money for our division at the same time.”

The club has sold ducks all over southern Illinois including at the Johnston City fireworks show and outside of Walmart. They will continue sales at the Du Quoin State Fair on Sunday, August 25.

Last year was the second year for Johnston City Elementary to have an athlete participate in Special Olympics Illinois. Matthew Garza, 9, from Johnston City, Illinois participates in both athletics and basketball. His Johnston City Elementary classmates were excited to watch him compete in the Region K Spring Games where Matthew took home first place in both the 25-meter wheelchair race and the tennis ball throw in 2018 and 2019. Matthew is always determined to play his best, even skipping recess to practice his tennis ball throwing.

“We are looking forward to adding more Special Olympics Illinois athletes to the JC Quack Attack Tribe this year as well as attending the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash.”


Jacob Dobson – 2019 Ducky Derby Dash Ambassador


Saline County-Resident and Special Olympics Illinois athlete – Jacob Dobson will serve as the 2019 Duck Derby Dash Ambassador at the 5th Annual Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash. The Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash takes place at the Du Quoin State Fair on Sunday, Sept. 1.

This summer Jacob is spreading the word about the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash and on race day, he will hold up the winning duck for thousands of spectators to see.

Jacob is 23 years old and has been involved in Special Olympics since he was 5. He started with track & field, bocce, and bowling. While attending Brownsville School, Jacob played on the school’s volleyball and basketball team. He graduated Brownsville School and is now competing with the Saline County Superstars Young Adult team.

Through Special Olympics, Jacob has learned that having a positive attitude is more important than winning. In his free time, Jacob supports local school sports teams and attends many local ballgames. He will always be an advocate for good sportsmanship. Jacob has made an effort to pass on that mindset to everyone he meets.

Jacob is also an active member of his Ditney Ridge Church. He has been attending this church for many years and helps with the youth programs. This will be Jacob’s 3rd year involved in the Southern Illinois Duck Derby. He loves setting up his sales booth at the local Wal-Mart and engaging with customers to explain the Ducky Derby Dash and Special Olympics.

Race Day kicks off at 1:00 pm with a parade. At 3:00 pm, the ducks will splash into the lake behind the Expo Hall at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. Following the duck race, will be entertainment for the entire family – live music, face painting, games, and an appearance by Splash Duck the mascot. Come out to help us reach our goal of adopting 11,000 rubber ducks.

Adopt a rubber duck for $5 for a chance to win one of the Southern Illinois Ducky Derby Dash’s great prizes. Ducks are available for adoption online at and every day of the DuQuoin State Fair from Aug. 23 – Sep 1. Join the conversation on social media by using #SIDuckyDerby.


Team Finds It Has the Right Stuff for Southern Illinois Plane Pull


On Sept. 24, the Law Enforcement Torch Run partnered with Southern Illinois University’s School of Aviation to present the inaugural Southern Illinois Plane Pull hosted at the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro.

Sixteen teams competed, each with 8 members playing tug-of-war against the SIU School of Aviation’s 737 weighing more than 60,000 pounds. More than $25,600 was raised for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. Awards were given to the fastest pull in each division, fastest pull overall, top fundraising team and team spirit.


Members of the Wright Stuff pull the plane at Southern Illinois Plane Pull

One of the participating teams was The Wright Stuff of Mascoutah. Affiliated with Scott Air Force Base, the team was led by Alice Howe and consisted of 8 military veterans and friends. The members were Alice Howe, Brenda Reed, Blair Reed, Ada Sinclair, Steve Eller, Cathy Stubbs, Mark Baker and Lindy Baker.

The Wright Stuff has a long history with Special Olympics Illinois. Alice Howe grew up in a family where sports played a big role. “When my son was diagnosed (with autism), I thought sports in the future was lost, but it just went in another direction,” said Howe. “When I found Special Olympics, I had to become a coach and learn to teach others like my son how much fun sports can be in your life.”

Teams were split into three divisions – Public Safety (for law enforcement, corrections and fire departments), Open (for general public) and SIU (for teams affiliated with the university). The Wright Stuff, participating in the Open Division, pulled the 60,000-pound plane 12 feet down the runway in 11.28 seconds.

“We just wanted to move the plane an inch,” Howe said. Not only did they do that, they pulled so quickly, they earned second place in the Open Division.

“This was such an awesome experience to help the athletes.”

By Sydney Velez, Communications intern

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.

Area News – October 2015


Areas 2, 3, 5, 13, 16

Pumpkin Pedal Brings Special Olympics Fans, Cyclists Together

bike trail-cropThis year marked the 24th Pumpkin Pedal Bike Tour for Special Olympics Illinois. Nearly 300 riders took to the trails for the athletes on Oct. 4 at the brand new location – the Sycamore Speedway in Maple Park.

This event draws a mix of biking enthusiasts, families and athletes including Ginny Luptak, who has participated in the event for the past 6 years, and Bill, Beverly and Matt Kaman, who has participated as an athlete for 28 years. Read More

Area 3

A Beautiful Day for Bocce in Chicago

ChicagoBocce1Sept. 26 proved to be a perfect day for Special Olympics Illinois Chicago/Area 3’s annual bocce competition. Beautiful and sunny skies allowed more than 600 athletes and coaches and 150 volunteers to descend on McGuane Park in Chicago’s Southside community of Bridgeport.

Many of the Chicago athletes set incredible records and won their divisions which will allow them to advance to the next level of competition – Summer Games  in Normal next June.

ChicagoBocce2New to the bocce event was the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Fun Fitness. More than 100 participants received free fitness screenings that focused on flexibility, strength and balance in cooperation with aerobic exercise. The fitness event developed in collaboration with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) for Special Olympics Healthy Athletes®.

Chicago/Area 3 would like to extend a note of appreciation to the community of Bridgeport for the support of bocce over the years. The bocce competition was successful because of the team in this neighborhood. Plus, a special Thank You goes to Elmer Mestrovic.  Elmer’s support over the years of this event has made Area 3’s bocce a competition that delights everyone involved! Congratulations to all individuals involved!

Area 6

Peoria Athlete Takes Running Passion to a New Level

Matt Barrett crosses the finish line at the Steamboat Classic in Peoria

Matt Barrett crosses the finish line at the Steamboat Classic in Peoria

The finish line is in Matt Barrett’s sights as he trains for his first half marathon at the PNC Bank Peoria Marathon on Oct. 18.  Matt has been involved with Special Olympics since 2002 when the director at Peoria Production Shop, Pam Creager, suggested he compete. He competes in three events through Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA) — track and field, bowling and basketball — but could never pick a favorite.

Matt has been running since attending Elmwood High School. His events then included the 800 meter, the mile and two mile. After graduation, Matt started running with the Running Central Team Steam group and runs every Tuesday and Thursday with other community members. This group trains runners for the Steamboat Classic in Peoria. In June, Matt ran the 15K at the Classic.

Now the group has moved on to training for the Peoria half marathon. Read More

Area 9

What a Delightful Taste!

If you missed the 6th Annual Taste of Something Special on Oct. 8 at The Walk Way in Mattoon, words can only describe it as delightful. This yearly fundraiser, presented again by S & S Services Company, benefits Special Olympics Illinois East Central/Area 9 by raising funds for the 10 competitions and 2 family fun events held throughout the year.

St. James Winery basket

St. James Winery basket

Patrons of the event enjoyed food provided by Pagliacci’s and El Vaquero of Mattoon, while sampling different wines and spirits provided by Koerner’s Distributing and St. James Winery of Missouri.  Several area businesses, including First National Bank, Diepholz Auto Group, and the Cross County Mall, donated auction items for the baskets presented for the silent auction with again all proceeds benefiting the athletes of Area 9.  Among the hot selling items at the silent auction this year were an outdoor fireplace filled with spirits, 4 box seat tickets for a Cardinals game, a St. James Winery Basket with Winery & Brewery tours with overnight stay, and the “Y Not Eat a Blizzard” bundle with a 6-month family pass to the Mattoon YMCA paired with a free Blizzard from Dairy Queen a week for a year.


Area 9 athletes Drew Walters (front) and (L-R) Tyler Hahn, Kahla Masuga, Kimberly Stivers, Brooke Ingram and Marley Kater

The Taste of Something Special was a huge success, having raised more than $12,000. This fundraiser would not have been such a hit without the support of the honored Special Olympics Illinois athletes from Area 9 and the dedication of the 2015 TOSS committee members, who participated in the planning and implementation of the TOSS event.  The athletes who were honored at the event included Area 9 Global Messenger Kimberly Stivers, Anthony Sheehan, Tyler Hahn, Brooke Ingram, Kahla Masuga, Rachel Zakutansky, and Drew Walters, whose mother is a newly appointed member of the Taste of Something Special Committee.

“Mere words can’t describe the time, hard work, and commitment these wonderful community members and fans of Special Olympics Illinois East Central/Area 9 exhibited to ensure the success of the fundraiser,” said Area Director Vanessa Duncan in reference to the Taste of Something Special Committee.  Members this year were Tonja Arthur, John Covington, Peggy Dow, Rick & Dalena Hall, Teresa Metzger, Leann Polston, Rebecca Polston, Catherine Rogers-Bovard, Lissa Skocy, Mark Sheehan, Moni Sheehan, Colleen VanGundy, Tiffany Walters, and Celeste Webb, with special support from Dawn Zachow of Eastern Illinois University.

The Presenting sponsor for the 6th Annual Taste of Something Special was S & S Services Company of Mattoon.  Gold Medal Sponsors were Lyondellbasell and RR Donnelley.  Silver Sponsors included Duncan Window Company, First Neighbor Bank, Lorenz Supply Company, Midland States Bank, and West & Company, LLC.  Athlete Sponsors were Dairy Queen, 19th St., Mark, Moni, and Anthony Sheehan; Sheehan Construction Inc.; Niemeyer-Kubota, Tom & Linda Niemeyer; John and Kathleen Covington; Mears Automotive Inc.;  Anamet Electrical Inc.; Consolidated Communications, Inc.; First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust; Leisure Pools; Bob and Judy Jones; Omega Nu Chapter of ESA; Preston Owen of Pagliacci’s; El Vaquero; and First National Bank c/o Preston Smith. Bronze sponsors included the Mitch Webb Memorial Scholarship; Pilson Auto Center; State Farm Insurance-Sherry Branson’s Office; Kima Properties; Care A Lot Day Care; and Phyllis Karpus.