Region E Stories Stories

A Father’s Pride in What His Son Has Given Him


How do you want to be remembered? Or better yet, will you be remembered?

My approach has long been to leave this world better than when I first entered it. Certainly that’s a gigantic task that comes with many options and challenges. And I must admit my personal path to making a difference really didn’t become clear until my younger son, Matthew, came into my life 21 years ago.

Matt was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 and it immediately disrupted many of the plans my wife, Karyn, and I had for him. But those were OUR plans. What was Matt looking at? What was he hoping for? What was important to realize — and accept — was that as parents our job was to give Matt and his older brother, Mark, every opportunity to maximize their skills and abilities and introduce them to their respective possibilities. Thankfully, Karyn made sure none of us never lost that focus.

Matt didn’t verbally communicate to us in words that made sense until he was 6 years old, but we began to sense his capabilities and likes early on. Everything seemed to point toward sports – following in this former sportswriter’s footsteps, except Matt was a much better athlete even back then than I ever was. The question became how do we get him involved with appropriate programming and with other children who have special needs?

That’s where Special Olympics Illinois came into the picture. And that’s when I personally began to understand what my purpose in life would be. Through the Special Olympics programs offered by Lincolnway Special Recreation Association in New Lenox, Ill., a whole new world of opportunity was presented to Matt – and to me. Matt had the chance to participate in numerous Special Olympics activities and it enabled me to be there with him as a volunteer parent – especially in basketball, a sport I’ve had the pleasure of refereeing now for 43 years. That’s when I found the path to making that difference.

Over the years I’ve not only been able to watch Matt blossom into a gold medal champion in numerous Special Olympics sports, but have actually been directly involved in some of those activities as a basketball referee, softball umpire and volleyball official. And, of course, there are countless other programs I’ve had a chance to volunteer for over the years.

The ironic part of it all is in my attempt to give back through Matt, I’ve received so much more in return. It seems unfair at times, but that’s the reality of it all. Had it not been for Matt introducing me to the world of Special Olympics, in no way would I have discovered all of the cool opportunities that were available to me out there. For instance, I currently assist Special Olympics Illinois and the Illinois High School Association in driving awareness of persons with abilities and increasing volunteerism within all SOILL-IHSA Unified sports and activities. The number of volunteer referees for both traditional and Unified Basketball are on the rise because of this emerging partnership.

I currently assist Special Olympics Illinois and the Illinois High School Association in driving awareness of persons with abilities and increasing volunteerism within all SOILL-IHSA Unified sports and activities. The number of volunteer referees for both traditional and Unified Basketball are on the rise because of this emerging partnership.

There’s also my involvement with Special Olympics and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. I’m currently working with SOILL and IBCA’s executive team so that someday soon, hopefully, IBCA’s Hall of Fame will also open its doors to Special Olympics Illinois athletes, coaches, officials, and friends.

Personally, there probably has not been no greater honor and privilege than being invited to referee the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. Sharing the same court with another veteran Special Olympics Illinois referee, Jerry Blum, and officiating games involving teams from many parts of the globe will always be my pinnacle. I’ll forever remember the warm smiles, hugs, and high fives from all involved. And then joining Blum to referee the celebrity basketball game that features the likes of James Worthy, Dikembe Mutumbo, Glenn “Doc” Rivers, Sam Perkins, and others was the ultimate thrill.

But the most poignant moment in L.A. came during the Summer Games Opening Ceremonies at the Coliseum. I looked over to Matt and realized this was HIS party, these were HIS people and this time we were HIS guests. His eyes were as big as silver dollars as the parade of nations and dignitaries made their collective way onto the field.

Recognize a recurring theme here? While trying to create a better life experience for Matt and his Special Olympics colleagues through volunteering, I’ve received so much more in return when I wasn’t expecting anything.

That is what makes Special Olympics so great and special. This is why I’m so passionate about the cause. This is why I strongly invite everyone who hasn’t already done so to consider sharing their time and expertise with this wonderful organization.

This is what I hope you will remember.

By Bob Reczek

Unified Sports with the Four Legged Kind


Horses help win the minds, hearts, gold, silver and bronze medals with Special Olympics Illinois Athletes

Did you know that with all of the sports that Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) offers, most are played entirely with other SOILL athletes? However, there is one that is played Unified with another kind of athlete….a horse.

Along with being competitive, humans can be compassionate, calm, athletic, understanding, comforting, friendly and therapeutic to each other. A horse can have the same effect on humans as well.

There is a therapeutic equine facility in Lemont, Illinois working with Special Olympics Illinois athletes and horses preparing them for competition, while helping to build the self-assurance of these riders. As Executive Director and Head Coach, Marlene Karman of Holistic Riding Equestrian Therapy (HRET) states, “The sense of pride, along with enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem derived from our participants knowing that their horses need them for care and exercise, is unlike anything I have ever experienced in any other industry. The bonding among riders, volunteers and horses is the heart of our HRET family.”

As you would imagine, for a facility like this to be extra special, you need exceptional characters as the basis for what you do. While there are many at HRET, one specifically comes to mind, Officer Baldy. No, he was not the local patrolman, but a founding HRET horse that provided so many people with the opportunity to learn how to ride.

Baldy was the original horse at HRET. He joined the ponies, Tony and Tina in 2015, when the Chicago Police Department Mounted Patrol retired him after he worked his final assignment – patrolling the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup celebration.

Baldy was proudly named in honor of Chicago Police Officer Patrolman Leonard F. Baldy, who became the first “Flying Officer”providing Chicagoans with live traffic reports from a helicopter throughout the 1950’s. Baldy’s training and experience made him the ideal therapy horse with his calm, patient demeanor and large fluid movements. He was never fazed by any loud sounds, however this gentle giant, being a true city boy, was not a fan of pigs or cows! Many of HRET’s riders had their first ride on him where they felt comfortable and safe. Many of those riders were Special Olympics Illinois athletes, who rode Baldy in many events, including HRET’s first competition at the 2017 Fall Games at the Braveheart Therapeutic Riding Center in Poplar Grove, IL, near Rockford.

Karman recalls the courage that their first team had when overcoming the jitters at the ’17 games. “It is an amazing accomplishment for first-time athletes to overcome competition nerves in addition to the pressure of riding in a new facility filled with an audience and still perform at gold and silver medal standards. I am so proud of our entire team and their families!”

While many coaches, family members and HRET volunteers had a lot to do with calming the nerves of their athletes, there was one competitor and teammate whose training and spirit helped prepare them all for this.  It was Baldy, who helped bring home eight gold medals that weekend.


HRET’s home is  at Kopping Farms, a 150-year-old historic landmark and working farm that is located next to the Palos Forest Preserve in Lemont, Illinois.

The HRET team is passionately committed to empowering the  lives of individuals with varied physical, emotional, cognitive and social abilities through the spirit of the horse. 

HRET offers a variety of skill appropriate classes meeting the needs of preschoolers on our ponies to independent riders on our program safe horses.

Classes are taught by Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors.

DON’T MISS – 3rd annual Country Western Casino fundraiser, September 19th, 2020 launching HRET’s Capital Campaign for the construction of a new ADA compliant temperature controlled year-round arena/barn in 2021.

Please visit their website at to enjoy the testimonials and support their endeavor.

My Son Ooozes with Confidence


Before a baby arrives, parents talk about endless possibilities.  They plan ahead and they make sure everything is perfect.  Parents dream about a bright and beautiful path for their child, and that path is paved by their own experiences because, naturally, to that point, that’s all they know.

The day arrives that they’ve been waiting for and a child with intellectual disabilities is placed in their arms. They are not sure at first how to communicate their fears and the myriad of other thoughts and emotions that come and go.  Well-intentioned friends and family have a hard time communicating, as well, which often makes things more difficult.  Doctor visits also are discouraging as the general focus is defining what this child cannot do, as opposed to what it can.       

Brook and Dave, Jack Klawitter’s parents, made an early decision to blaze a trail down a new path and to not be angry or frustrated but, instead, to celebrate their child.  They received a recommendation from Jack’s physical therapist to try Special Olympics Illinois.

Later, they headed to Normal, Illinois, to have Jack participate for the first time in the Young Athletes program.  Anticipation of that new experience came with fear and a roller coaster of emotions for Brook.  She noted that she didn’t know if being involved in Special Olympics would come with a stigma.  Instead, the experience became the first day of Jack’s life when Brook and Dave enjoyed a sense of calm and community.  “It was the first day we got to celebrate Jack openly.  Celebrate him.  It wasn’t to compare.  We just got to celebrate,” notes Brook.  “In that day and in that moment. It was just about being somewhere that we were comfortable.  Not measured. Not evaluated. And we got to be. People helped us celebrate what Jack could do, not what he couldn’t do.”

Brook recalls that the children participating in Special Olympics that day, and every day forward, whether with disabilities or not, are ALL learning to run, jump, kick, balance, and more, at the same time.  “Because he participated in Young Athletes, he could participate in the exact same way!  He didn’t know the impact he was having,” she says. 

That impact can be seen through Jack’s two sisters, Sophia and Marion, who, Brook says, “treat everyone like they are individuals and are incredibly supportive.”  

Jack’s involvement in Special Olympics Illinois also allowed the Klawitter family to become part of something bigger that what they had known before, and they realized that they were supported by an entire village of individuals who genuinely care for both Jack and their whole family. 

As is a core goal for Special Olympics Illinois, the experience and environmental gains go far beyond the fields of play.  In Jack’s case, and in the case of thousands of other athletes, Special Olympics helps to develop lifetime skills for all chapters of that person’s life.  Brook fondly notes, “Young athletes set him up for PE and recess.  In Kindergarten, it is PE and recess when they set up social skills.  (Jack) learned those skills and practiced them on a regular basis.”  She continues with a specific example from their local park district t-ball league.  “He was happy and confident participating with all typically developing peers and you realize then, in those times, when he is doing this confidently, that he is starting to change minds and attitudes.  These are the people that need to see beyond the almond shaped eyes.”

When listening to Brook speak, you hear the words of a proud mother boasting about her son.  This is the same mother that looked at her newborn with Downs Syndrome and thought about that path of success that she and Dave had mentally laid out prior to his birth.  In many ways, that path is more firm and straight that many parents in their shoes could imagine.  “Jack oozes with confidence,” Brook says.  “He sees every opportunity. Every moment, as a new opportunity for success.  Because he has a thousand opportunities instead of ten, the 20 times when he HAS failed, he shrugs it off and tries again.” 

When asked to summarize a few keys of what Special Olympics provides for Jack, Brook notes, “(Special Olympics Illinois gives the) right support and process in place for him.  He is absolutely going to be successful in that environment, and when he is successful, he grows confidence and believes he can do the next thing.  He sees everything as a chance to succeed.”

Jack’s successes in just 14 years of life so far range from competitions won to hugs and high-fives from peers everywhere.  Before Jack’s birth, Brook and Dave dreamed about a bright and beautiful future for their child.  They just had no idea that the bright would come in the form of bronze, silver, and gold, and the beautiful would come from the smiles on the faces of everyone who calls Jack Klawitter a friend. From your friends at Special Olympics Illinois, Happy Birthday Jack!   

SO Athlete, Nick Lorenz wins Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres


It is with such pride to hear stories about how Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) grows the confidence of athlete’s well-being off the field of play, helping them achieve such great things at school, in social circles, and in the workplace. So, when Nick Lorenz won The 2019 Ben Marcus Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres for his commitment and customer service to the organization, it was well deserved, and fits Nick’s energetic personality. Another key criteria to selecting award winners is finding exceptional associates who have gone above and beyond in their volunteering for others. Not only is Nick a Special Olympics Illinois athlete of 16 years (Basketball, Volleyball, Golf, Swimming, Bocce Ball, Bowling and Track & Field), but he goes above and beyond for SOILL as a competitor, a fundraiser, and a volunteer. Separate of Special Olympics Illinois, Nick is a volunteer for Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Marcus Theatres is a division of The Marcus Corporation that is the fourth largest theater circuit in the Unites States and currently owns or operates 1,106 screens at 91 locations in 17 states. One location is in Orland Park, Illinois, where Nick has worked for three

years doing everything from taking tickets, to helping in the lobby and concession area, to customer service. “I like helping customers find their theater and helping them at concessions with the pop machine. I like working with all of my co-workers.”, Nick says.

As his parents, Pam and Scott say, “He loves his job at Marcus and feels like he is a big part of the community.” They site Special Olympics Illinois as a big contributor to their son’s confidence and continued outgoing personality, “It has helped Nick become a stronger person, both mentally and physically, (it has) taught him how to handle both winning and losing the right way. Since becoming a Global Messenger, with Special Olympics Illinois, his self-confidence has grown immensely.”

Congratulations to you, Nick for proving what you can do in sport, at work, and in the community. Being a Global Messenger is one part of the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program, and by winning this award, you are showing what it is to be a leader for all of us. Keep up the great work!

(Pictured left, Nick Lorenz and Greg Marcus, President and CEO of The Marcus Corporation.)

14th Annual Heritage Haul to Benefit Special Olympics IL


Join us for Village of South Holland 14th Annual Heritage Haul on September 14, 2019! The Heritage Haul features a 5K Run/Walk, 10K, and Half-Marathon. The race starts at the beautiful Veterans Memorial Park (160th & South Park Ave) in South Holland, Illinois, at 7 a.m. 50% of your registration fee directly benefits the Special Olympics Illinois- Region E, whose events and programs support athletes in South Holland and surrounding communities.

Interested in participating in the race?

Click here and enter promo code SPECIALOLYMPICS to sign-up!

For more information:
Heritage Haul Flyer