Young Athletes 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!

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.

Young Athletes Spotlight – Henry Galvanoni


Henry Galvanoni is an engaging 4-year-old who is always happy to give you a handshake, a hug or a high five! Most people who meet Henry for the first time recognize his smile and beaming expression that instantly warm your heart.

Henry CE Award

Henry Galvanoni with coach Dave Dauphin

The Young Athletes Program has not only helped improve and develop Henry’s skills, but also introduced the family to the world of Special Olympics Illinois. “We have met many wonderful families through the program”, says Mary Galvanoni, Henry’s mother. “It is exciting to watch Henry excel these past couple of years and fun to watch him gravitate towards his favorites, developing his own personality and choices.”

When Henry is not participating with the Young Athletes Program, he is busy being the older brother to 1-year-old Eva. He also loves transportation – cars, planes, trains – he loves to play with them and ride in them. He is fascinated by anything that is mechanical.  He also loves animals and can identify many zoo animals and their sounds.

We are so lucky to have Henry and his family be a part of the Young Athletes Program and can’t wait to see what is in store for him with his Special Olympics career.

Toys “R” Us Cheers on a Champion


Toys “R” Us Campaign features Special Olympics Illinois Athlete Jack

???????????????????????????????Furthering its commitment as a Founding Partner of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, Toys“R”Us announced the February 1 launch of a nationwide in-store and online awareness campaign. By texting “CHEER” to 80888, customers can make a $5 donation via their mobile device that will help support Special Olympics athletes participating in the “Games of Welcome and Acceptance” being held in New Jersey from June 14-21.

Toys“R”Us was the first Founding Partner of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games with a $1 million grant from the Toys“R”Us Children’s Fund, a public charity affiliated with the company. The company will serve as the presenting sponsor of the first-ever Young Athletes Festival at the 2014 USA Games, which will provide opportunities for children ages 2-7, and their families, to take part in the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program. This inclusive, innovative play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities helps kids develop critical early cognitive, social and motor skills and introduces them to the world of sports.

???????????????????????????????Jack is one of those athletes. Born December 8, 2005 with Down Syndrome. Jack was in the NICU for 4 days with breathing and eating challenges. Fast-forward a few years and you can see Jack as a loving, lively little toddler that loves to play “ball ball” and looks forward to his Young Athletes sessions.

In the spring of 2009 his family started a Young Athletes program for the far south Chicago suburb area. Jack and his little sisters, Sophia and Mary, look forward to Young Athletes sessions, love seeing all of their friends and building their athletic skill.

Jack has an insatiable appetite for playing catch and batting. He is now 7 and has begun his transition into the traditional Special Olympics Program. He has been showcasing some of the skills he has learned through the Young Athletes Program at Winter Games, State Basketball, Summer Games and the Outdoor Sports Festival. He is looking forward to all of the many opportunities to participate in Special Olympics for many years to come.

Toys“R”Us Raises Awareness of 2014 USA Games In Stores Nationwide and Online

From February 1 through March 31, signage in Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us stores nationwide will encourage customers to text “CHEER” to 80888 to make a $5 donation via their mobile device to the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. Donations will help more than 3,500 athletes go for the gold at the Games in New Jersey this June. The signage features three participants in Special Olympics’ Young Athletes Program – Traigh of Wisconsin, Kailani of New Jersey and Jack of Illinois – showcasing the future stars of Special Olympics.

#CheerOnAChampion – Customers Encouraged to Share the Excitement on Social Media

Jack at Super PlungeLast June, Toys“R”Us began its one-year countdown to the Games by encouraging its fans and followers on social media to #CheerOnAChampion and learn about Special Olympics’ Young Athletes Program and its inspiring participants across the U.S at Visitors to the site can “meet” Young Athletes from across the country via an interactive map and learn how the Young Athletes Program is helping kids achieve their personal goals. Throughout the coming months, the company will profile Young Athletes from various states on its official Facebook and Twitter pages, shining a spotlight on the personal goals attained every day by these determined athletes.

In addition to being a Founding Partner of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, Toys“R”Us will also serve as the Presenting Sponsor of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, during which more than 100 law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from all 50 states will take part in a multi-day torch run leading up to the Games’ Opening Ceremony on June 15.