Sports Stories

Joe Mantegna Reads Baby’s Day Out


 

We have had such great turnout from so many different celebrities and friends reading to our Young Athletes! Today, we bring you a special book reading! Chicago native and Criminal Minds actor Joe Mantegna reads Baby’s Day Out! And you might just catch a glimpse of him in the movie too. Thanks Joe!


Meet Daniel Cramer


 

Daniel Cramer was born on the 25th of June in 1999.  He was born six weeks early, but he quickly gained strength and met all his growth milestones on time.  Sadly, though, when Daniel turned two, he had his first seizure.  He lost all his speech and muscle tone and, suddenly, he was not the little boy we had come to know.  After going from doctor to doctor, Daniel was finally diagnosed with Autism, developmental delay, and seizure disorder.  It took many years of work to get him to talk again and socialize.  When Daniel turned eight, we introduced him to Special Olympics Illinois and the rest is history.

Daniel started bowling and, he loved it so much, he started playing other sports too.  He now participates in Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Track and Field, Tennis, Golf, Volleyball, Powerlifting and Snowshoeing, and is still always looking for more sports to play.

In powerlifting, Daniel can bench 165 pounds, and he lifts 360 pounds in the dead weight competition.  He and his family feel that powerlifting has given Daniel the strength to do well in all his sports.  In the last 12 years of competing, he has earned over 140 medals!

As a highlight of his Special Olympics Illinois career, Daniel was chosen to represent Team USA in the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.  He and his brother Ryan competed in Unified Bocce at the games.  He had the experience of a lifetime meeting other athletes from around the world and making many new friends, many of whom he continues to communicate with through Facebook.  Daniel made everyone very proud when he won gold, silver, and bronze medals for Team USA!

When Daniel came home, he was honored by the Mayor of Round Lake Beach at a groundbreaking Heroes ceremony. He also went to Springfield and was honored by Governor Pritzker during a luncheon at the Governors Manson.

Along with great sports skills, Daniel also demonstrates leadership skills, as well.  For example, after he graduated high school, there wasn’t a local basketball team on which Daniel could play, so he decided to start his own team!  He got six friends to join, found a local, indoor court to use and, with the help of his mother/coach, team “Independent Remarc‐a‐Bulls” was formed. This season, the team was undefeated and qualified for state!

Daniel continues to play as many sports as he can and, during this uncertain time, he is participating in the online “School of Strength” challenge to stay strong and healthy.  Speaking of healthy, Daniel is also a Health Messenger for Special Olympics Illinois and he takes it very seriously.  He wants to keep all of his fellow athletes fit and healthy, too, and extends his own challenge to all of them…“Will all my fellow athletes please take the challenge and keep fit in this time of social distancing.”

Well said, Daniel, and congratulations on all of your success.  Thank you for setting a wonderful example for your fellow athletes, peers, and everyone!


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!


Brotherly Duo Cement Bond Through Young Athletes Participation


 

Nicholas Jess of Mattoon is following in his brother William’s footsteps as a Special Olympics Young Athlete. William, now 12, first competed as a Young Athlete and now Nicholas is too. Their bond as brothers increased over the years through this program.

Nicholas Jess participates in Young Athletes individual skills at State Basketball Tournament

Nicholas Jess participates in Young Athletes individual skills at State Basketball Tournament

William started in Young Athletes at Camp New Hope when he was 4 years old. After finishing Young Athletes, William transitioned into Special Olympics as a traditional athlete. William now participates in track and field and basketball. He competed in the 100-meter run, 4×100-meter relay and running long jump. William’s favorite sport is running long jump.

Nicholas began Young Athletes when he was 2 years old at Eastern Illinois University’s program and now competes independently. Nicholas, now 6, has participated in Young Athlete exhibitions in snowshoeing and basketball at state competitions. His favorite sport is snowshoeing because he enjoys running. He recently participated at the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament as a Young Athlete and William volunteered at his side.

William and Nicholas Jess with their parents Matthew and Laura

William and Nicholas Jess with their parents Matthew and Laura

When Nicholas first began Young Athletes, he was not able to run or jump and was nonverbal until he was 3. Mother Laura Jess described his burst in energy as a lightbulb turning on. Now he uses Young Athletes as an outlet to release his energy.

William practiced basketball with Nicholas at home to prepare for the State Basketball Tournament. William’s advice for Nicholas in future events is to “be fast.” We can expect the duo to continue participating in Special Olympics while strengthening their bond.

View photos from the 2016 State Basketball Tournament.

By Tyler Krivich, Communications Intern


Young Athletes Spotlight – Sadie Fiedler


 

Sadie Fiedler is a well-rounded 7-year-old from Rochester who is a social butterfly and loves to be surrounded by friends. Although she’s only in first grade, Sadie has already had a lot of opportunities with Special Olympics and beyond!

Sadie Fiedler

Sadie Fiedler

She started her sporting career with gymnastics by practicing at CheerZone in Springfield at the age of 5. Loving being active, Sadie wanted to try more sports and, in October 2013, Sadie tried her hand at basketball. Her mother, Barb Fiedler, worked with Special Olympics staff to sign Sadie up for her first Special Olympics Young Athletes exhibition. Sadie participated in basketball individual skills at the State Basketball Tournament. She had such a great experience that she wanted to try EVERY sport Special Olympics has to offer.

Sadie has now participated at Summer Games soccer skills exhibition in Normal and Outdoor Sports Festival softball individual skills exhibition in Decatur. Next up for Sadie is Winter Games snowshoeing exhibition in Galena. She is also learning to swim and bowl. Through participating with various sports and activities, Sadie has been able to meet and make friends all over Central Illinois!

SadieOutside of Special Olympics sports, Sadie is one busy little girl. She is starting in her 3rd year of special needs cheerleading.  In addition to being very athletic, Sadie also has a creative arts side.  She has been in music classes since she was 2. She also started ballet, tumbling and tap dancing at the age of 16 months. And just recently, Sadie has been in involved with four beauty pageants. This opportunity has really encouraged her to answer questions on stage with a lot of people watching. She really enjoys the attention. Sadie is also very involved in 4-H; she just finished her 2nd year in the program.

Sadie has amazingly supportive family with her two brothers, Jake, 15, and Scott, 10, and mom and dad.  Her brothers love to watch and coach Sadie with all of her sports.  She also loves to coach them with their sports, mainly wrestling.  She also has a pet cockatiel that she is training to talk and do tricks.

We are so happy to have such an incredible family and athlete as part of our organization. We look forward to seeing what Sadie accomplished in her Special Olympics career in the future.