Region B Stories Stories

Unified Champions Schools Impact


Listen to this interview on how impactful Unified Champion Schools has been for these two students, Danny & Charlotte.

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!

Jewel-Osco Campaign to Make Change for Champions, Features Stephen Katz


During July, Jewel-Osco is relaunching its at-register fundraising campaign through the “Making Change” donation program called “Change for Champions” to support the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. The program runs July 1-31 at 184 Jewel-Osco locations throughout Illinois and customers will be encouraged to make a $1, $3 or $5 donation when they check out.

Stephen Katz pic 3This year’s “Change for Champions” campaign features Stephen Katz, a Special Olympics Illinois athlete and employee of Jewel-Osco. In 2016, Stephen celebrates 10 years working with Jewel-Osco at the Northpoint Shopping Center store in Arlington Heights. Stephen has been competing with Special Olympics since he was 8 years old and has won numerous medals. Most recently, Stephen won three gold medals in powerlifting but he also competes in gymnastics, basketball, track, volleyball, swimming and softball.

“Change for Champions marks the third time Jewel-Osco has partnered with Special Olympics Illinois on this specific fundraising campaign,” said Mike Withers, President of Jewel-Osco. “We could not be more proud of Jewel-Osco Associate Stephen Katz and the relationship we have with the organization.”

In addition to the Change for Champions campaign, Jewel is the Presenting Sponsor for the 11th Annual Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby again this year. Over the last 10 years, the event has raised money and awareness for Special Olympics Illinois and become a favorite Chicago summertime event. They were also a Bronze Sponsor for this year’s Summer Games in Normal. Nearly 4,000 athletes competed over three days in athletics, aquatics, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer and bocce.

“We are extremely grateful for the support Jewel-Osco has shown Special Olympics Illinois as well our athletes,” said Dave Breen, President & CEO of Special Olympics Illinois. “In addition to its fundraising efforts, Jewel-Osco provides jobs for many Special Olympics athletes throughout Illinois, giving them the ability to learn valuable life skills and be productive members of their communities.”

Special Olympics Athlete Swears in Chiefs of Police President


A bit of Special Olympics history was made when Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steven Casstevens was installed as Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police President on April 22. Casstevens was the first incoming president to be sworn in by a Special Olympics athlete.
Garrett Anderson of Palatine is a longtime Special Olympics athlete with Northwest Suburban Special Recreation Association, Global Messenger and currently sits on the SOILL Board of Directors. “I had several discussions with Fox Lake Chief Russ Laine, my Parliamentarian,” recalled Casstevens. “Knowing how involved I have been with Special Olympics, he suggested having a Global Messenger do the swearing in. I loved the idea immediately and Russ suggested Garrett.” Laine also serves on the SOILL Board of Directors and knows Garrett and his family.


Garrett Anderson (center) swears in Steven Casstevens as ILACP President as Russ Laine (right) looks on

Casstevens has been in law enforcement for 38 years – first with military police, 30 years with Hoffman Estates Police Department, 21/2 years with Cary P.D. and 3 years with Buffalo Grove P.D.

During that time, Casstevens became involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run, participating in such events as tip-a-cops, Dunkin’ Donuts Cop on a Rooftop, Plane Pull, Spare Change for Real Change and the Truck Convoy. Locally, he’s coordinated numerous fundraisers include bowling tournaments, live and silent auctions, and he’s planning a Trivia Night this year.

“Special Olympics and the ideals it stands for have always been near to my heart,” said Casstevens, “and it is a consistent and important focus within my department. Both Special Olympics and the Torch Run will continue to be priorities for this Association and for me personally.”

The Buffalo Grove Chief would like to see law enforcement agencies in the state become involved with Special Olympics in more ways than just the Torch Run. “Every police department should know a Global Messenger to contact for their events.”

“I’m proud of where Illinois law enforcement has come over the past decade with its support of Special Olympics. This is in large part due to such committed law enforcement representatives like Joe Pena, Russ Laine, Tom Reasoner, Eric Smith, Jeff Price, and so many more.”

Casstevens will serve as ILACP president for 2016-2017 term. Congratulations to Chief Casstevens on this prestigious honor!

Area News – May 2016


Far West Suburban/Area 2

29th Annual Midwest Golf Celebrity Pro-Am

The 29th Annual Midwest Golf Celebrity Pro-Am to benefit Far West Suburban/Area 2 will be June 20 at The Royal Fox Country Club in St. Charles.

Molly Sosnowski,

Molly Sosnowski, Eric Soderholm and Kevin Mikan at the 2015 Midwest Golf Celebrity Pro-Am.

The format for this year’s event will match professional athletes, and other celebrities with amateur foursomes in a scramble format tournament. Some of the celebrities expected to attend are Eric Soderholm, Cliff Levingston, Ronnie Bull, Ike Hill, Bob Parsons, Paul Popovich and Jim Thornton.

Registration begins at 9 a.m., with a shotgun start at 10:30 a.m. There will be cocktails and a dinner/auction after the day’s golfing.

This event offers attendees the opportunity to join the network of corporations and individuals who contribute to the success of thousands of Special Olympics athletes in the Chicagoland area. Please join us this year as a sponsor or individual golfer, or if you can’t attend, consider making a financial contribution.

For more information, contact Amy Kaylor at 630-377-7250. View event registration flyer.

Chicago/Area 3

Young Professionals Board Pub Crawl Raises Funds for Area 3

Team USA photoMore than 175 people showed up on Saturday, April 23, for the 11th Annual Young Professionals Board Pub Crawl. Pub Crawl guests visited seven pubs in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago and enjoyed drink and food specials throughout the day. Warm weather contributed to a fun afternoon enjoyed in a historic part of Chicago. The event concluded with food donated by Chipotle and a fun raffle.

Event co-chairs Kaitlyn Rosen and Mae Rodovitch and their planning committee arranged a fabulous raffle featuring tickets to comedy clubs, bowling parties, gift cards to spas and salons as well as gift cards to more than a dozen Chicago restaurants. Several guests were awarded best costume as part of the Team America theme and received restaurant gift cards in recognition. The event raised more than $4,600 to support athletes who participate in the Chicago/Area 3 program.

The Young Professionals Board (YPB) was formed in 2005 to raise funds for Special Olympics Illinois Chicago/Area 3.  For more information, contact Kathy McLaughlin.

Heartland/Area 6

Lip Sync Battle to Benefit Area 6

LipSynclogo4Special Olympics Illinois Heartland/Area 6 and the Law Enforcement Torch Run are hosting a Lip Sync Battle on Aug. 11. This inaugural event will feature Central Illinois celebrities who will “sing” their hearts out against other local celebrities to raise money and awareness for our Area 6 athletes and their families.

Lip Sync contestants will perform to one of their favorite songs for the audience, who will in turn vote for their favorite acts with a donation. They are encouraged to wear costumes and can invite friends or family to be their backup singers/dancers! In addition, Best Costume and “Keep Your Day Job” awards will be presented.

The Lip Sync Battle will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 11 at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard. The Vineyard will be selling its wine and beer selections throughout the evening. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased online.

For more information please contact Mollie Knutson or Jordan Vose.

East Central/Area 9

Coach of the Year Awarded at Spring Games

Windsor Schools team

Windsor Schools team

For the first time, Special Olympics Illinois Eastern Central/Area 9 recognized a coach with an award which recognizing the coach’s outstanding leadership abilities, volunteerism and dedication to Special Olympics sports programs at Spring Games.

The Area 9 Coach of the Year award was presented to Terry Prasun, head Special Olympics coach of the Windsor Schools team.

“The decision as to which of the 82 head coaches in the Area should win the inaugural Coach of the Year award was not an easy decision by any means,” said Vanessa Duncan, Area Director. “This decision was most difficult because of the many superstar coaches that lead, train, and love our Special Olympics Area 9 athletes.”

Prasun is an admired coach who trains her athletes in four sports throughout the year, including athletics (track & field), bocce, basketball and bowling. Read More

Little Brooklyn Raises BIG Support

Brooklyn Schutte, a second-grade athlete of the Neoga/Sigel Indians Special Olympics team, loves to run, loves to smile, and loves to support Special Olympics Illinois East Central/Area 9.

Brooklyn Schutte

Brooklyn Schutte

Brooklyn competed in the 100-meter race and the softball throw event at the 2016 East Central/Area 9 Spring Games at Eastern Illinois University, earning a medal in both of events.  But not only is Brooklyn an amazing athlete, she is also a fierce fundraiser for Area 9.

During the past two years, Brooklyn, her parents and family members have hosted fundraisers to provide financial support so that Area 9 can continue to offer free sports training and competitions, as well as add competition and family events. Last year, Brooklyn’s family was able to donate $871 from various fundraising efforts.

This year, they almost doubled their donation to East Central/Area 9 with a total of $1,570. Read More

North Suburban Cook/Area 18

Volunteering at Special Olympics a Tradition for Schwantz Family

Cook/Area 18 Spring Games were no exception. Amongst these volunteers were Austin Schwantz, a junior at Fremd High School, who recruited his fellow football teammates to help with set-up and tear down of Area 18 Spring Games at Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect.

Austin Schwantz and his football team at Fremd

Austin Schwantz and his football teammates from Fremd High School at the Palatine Polar Plunge

Austin is no stranger to volunteering. He helps coach the Blue Jays Special Olympics basketball team with some of his teammates who have siblings with special needs.

This winter he looked to expand his efforts. He wanted to further give back in a way that could also bond his team so he registered for the 2016 Palatine Polar Plunge. While they were reluctant at first, the football coaches helped to empower the team stating that if the team plunged, they would plunge, too. The Fremd Football went on to raise $3,000.

“The kids and coaches had such a great time, the coach is looking to making this a team event every year,” Austin’s mom, Brenda Schwantz, said. “It was all any of them could talk about for the next day.”

Volunteering is something Austin may have learned from his parents, Brenda and Jim Schwantz. Read More

Palatine High School Fundraiser Goes the Distance

On April 23, Palatine High School hosted Distance Night in Palatine – an event deigned to bring the best high school runners together from throughout Illinois and the Midwest while raising money for charity.

2016Area18-DistanceNight-0269Distance Night in Palatine is a unique fusion of elite distance racing, music and fun. Races included the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter distances as well as an 800-meter race for Special Olympics Illinois athletes.

“This race allows us to celebrate the true meaning of competition – to run to the best of your ability,” said Chris Quick, Palatine High School English teacher.

Quick was inspired by his brother, Chad, who competed in wheelchair races and more through Special Olympics during his childhood.

“It is because of him that I chose to make Special Olympics the primary beneficiary of our event,” Quick explains. “Our goal is to bring both financial support and awareness to Special Olympics.”

The Special Olympics 800 took place right before the “Main Event” races later in the evening and the participating athletes received a warm introduction prior to running.

This year’s event raised $1,870 for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. Thank you to Palatine High School and all of those who participated in Distance Night for their support! Watch video of event.