Region G Stories Stories

LETR Officer Wins Distinguished Service Medal


Normal Police Detective & Torch Run Officer, Wins Distinguished Service Medal by the Presidential Service Center for her work with Special Olympics Illinois

This June, for the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games, the Law Enforcement Torch Run ceremoniously runs the torches from all points around the state to the 10,000+ athletes, coaches, volunteers, families at the Special Olympics Summer Games Opening Ceremonies in Bloomington/Normal. For one of those officers, the light in the torch will be shining brightly along with the light in her heart.

Normal Police Department Detective, Nikki Bruno is just that person and in a ceremony on May 17th by the McLean County Republican Party, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the Presidential Service Center for helping to give back and make the Normal, IL community a better place. The award was presented by past award winner and White House Executive Chef to the past five Presidents, Martin Mongiello.

As part of her giving back, most of this work has been with the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois, which is the single largest fundraiser throughout our state. Nikki is described by all who know her as caring, dedicated, hardworking, humble, passionate, driven and impactful to help someone who may need a coat, a meal for Thanksgiving, aid a family of a fallen officer and support the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. All that being said about her, she will tell you that most of what she does is a group effort and the award is deserved by many people who give back.

As one of the nominations stated, “The impact of Nicole Bruno is felt daily by those members of our community who use the services that she supports”. This statement is a reflection of how she feels about the town she calls home as well. “In Normal, we are fortunate to have a community that has many opportunities to volunteer and be a part of giving back”, Bruno said. That along with the support she received from her Lieutenant, M. Paul Smith throughout the nomination process makes Detective Bruno extremely appreciative and respectful of what she has and will always continue to give back.

This June, for the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games, many flames were lit brightly in support of our athletes. None brighter than the one inside Nikki’s heart. Thanks for all you do for the Law Enforcement Torch Run and for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. An award well deserved!

Illinois State University: The long-standing support team behind Special Olympics Illinois


How the school continues to provide Special Olympics with a home base

By Tierney Anderson and Lexie Bradley

Tierney and Lexie are students at Pepperdine University

NORMAL, IL, – For the past 50 years, Special Olympics has been transforming lives through the joy of sport, empowering children and adults with intellectual disabilities through sports training and athletic competition across the world. But in no city can you see the impact of this organization and their work like you can in Normal, Illinois.

Special Olympics’ first International Summer Games took place back in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, where Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) was headquartered. It wasn’t until 1977 that SOILL moved to Normal, also the home of Illinois State University (ISU).

SOILL’s CEO and President Dave Breen said, “It came from a conversation about trying to expand the program and make it statewide.” There was an interest in utilizing the ISU sports facilities for SOILL’s future Summer Games. Upon ISU’s approval, SOILL began working out of an office given to them at ISU’s University High School. They remained there until 1989, when their current Normal headquarters were built.

SOILL Regional Director Kevin O’Brien said, “That move opened up doors for us to use the university facilities and create relationships with all the different departments on campus.” SOILL now works with ISU’s Office of Residential Life to house all of their athletes for the Summer Games, Facility Services to manage each of the sports facilities used in the Games, and IT to improve SOILL’s cyber security.

The ISU Athletics Department also plays a major role in the Summer Games. Breen said, “A lot of the student-athletes are still on campus [during the summer], and that’s really what we tap into for our Summer Games.” Breen considers the ISU football team, led by Head Coach Brock Spack, to be major supporters of SOILL’s work. Spack said, “Our guys are very gifted athletically, and I think it’s a real humbling experience for our players to watch how competitive, how passionate these Special Olympians are.”

The football team helps set up, run, and break down SOILL’s on-campus powerlifting competitions. They also move the Summer Games athletes and coaches into their on-campus housing for the Games. Spack said, “I’ve had several guys that have worked the whole weekend of the Summer Games come in my office, guys you would never think would come in, and say, ‘Coach, that was the greatest thing I’ve ever done’ on more than one occasion.”

Spack and members of the ISU football team at the 2018 Polar Plunge Photo courtesy of ISU Football

ISU students are able to contribute to SOILL’s work during the school year, as well. Student workers are hired in sports management, marketing, and accounting and financial services positions for SOILL. Breen also said that ISU’s Greek organizations helped raise about $18,000 at this year’s SOILL Polar Plunge fundraiser, where participants collect pledges to jump into an icy lake. Spack and members of his football team were there volunteering as security and participating in the challenge.

The school’s MBA program has done studies and projects on ways that SOILL can enhance their fundraising efforts, to which Breen said, “we’re giving them real-life vocational skills and work study skills that they’re going to need in the future, but they’re using to better our organization. It’s been a really great relationship.”

O’Brien cites ISU’s handicap-accessible campus as a major benefit to SOILL’s work there. He said, “Illinois State is not just handicap accessible in their facilities, almost all places are nowadays. But the geographic set-up of their sports facilities are all within a 6-block space on the same blacktop, and you can get from place to place without any problem at all.”

What O’Brien considers to be the hidden gem in SOILL and ISU’s work together, though, is ISU’s special education program. He said, “Illinois State is a premiere school for teachers in special education. It has been for years — it was back in the early 70s when we got on campus, it was even that way before then.” Graduates of this program have gone on to become SOILL volunteers, coaches, and staff members.

This year’s Illinois Summer Games was a 50th-Anniversary celebration. Over 4,000 athletes and 1,700 coaches will be heading to Illinois to compete in athletics, bocce, Unified bocce, gymnastics, soccer, powerlifting, and swimming. The Opening Ceremony took place at Hancock Stadium, home of the ISU football team.

O’Brien called it a “huge weeklong celebration that will include Unified Sports and recognition of the abilities, rather than the disabilities, of our athletes. It always is a great opportunity to showcase what all sports can be to all people.”

Pontiac Respect Day Video


Pontiac High School produced this awesome video in recognition of Spread the Word to End the Word day. These kids put words into action and walk the walk of inclusion and respect for all.

Athlete Finds Unique Way to Raise Money for Polar Plunge – Collecting, Recycling Cans


Special Olympics Illinois athlete Jacob Cross of Bloomington is looking forward to repeating the Polar Plunge at Bloomington’s Miller Park on Feb. 25, 2017. Jacob has come up with a rather unique way of raising the minimum $100 to participate in the event that helps both Special Olympics and the environment.

IMG 3517 WebJacob plunged in 2016 with his Special Olympics team from Tri-Valley High School (he’s pictured above in back row wearing a blue wig). Afterward, he told his mother, Julie, he wanted to do it again in 2017. She told him “If you want to this again, let’s try to raise $100 by recycling cans. Why not see how much we can collect?”

Jacob was all in. He already had experience collecting aluminum cans; he had collected cans as a cool-down in the local parks after track practices.

He started with purpose over the summer and ramped up his efforts this fall. He visits local public parks to collect the cans and takes them to a local recycling plant to exchange for cash. “Right now, aluminum cans are getting 30 to 35 cents per pound,” said Julie Cross.

As Jacob’s friends and family have heard of his fundraising efforts, they have been collecting cans and recyclables for him. “We even had someone give us tires so we can recycle the rims,” said Julie. “Now we just have to figure out how to get the tires off the rims,” she said with a chuckle.

IMG 1511 WebJacob, 26, has been a Special Olympics athlete since he was about 10 years old. He has concentrated on swimming through the years, deviating to athletics (track & field) for two years. He started swimming with Special Opportunities Available in Recreation (SOAR) as a boy, swam with Bloomington Parks & Recreations summer team and then swam on the boys’ swim team at Bloomington High School. He now swims with the Tri-Valley team because their practice times fit best into the family’s schedule, his mother said.

As of mid-November, Jacob had collected $175 for the Polar Plunge. Jacob has the second tier of Plunge fundraising in his sights – if he raises $275, he’ll qualify for the exclusive Polar Plunge water bottle in addition to the Plunge sweatshirt he’ll get for raising the $100 minimum. If he gets to $500, he’ll also qualify for the Polar Plunge backpack in addition to the water bottle and sweatshirt.

Register for the 2017 Polar Plunge at any of the 22 locations and give athletes like Jacob the opportunity to transform their lives through Special Olympics.

By Michele Evans, Director of Communications

2 Illinois Softball Teams Compete at SONA Invitational Tournament


Special Olympics Illinois was represented by 26 athletes and Unified partners on two softball teams at the 2016 Special Olympics North America Softball Invitational Tournament Aug. 18-21 in Roanoke, Va.

Representing Illinois were:

  • Tri-County Unified of Peoria (pictured above) – Athletes and Partners: Chad Broomfield, Darren Darr, Thomas Dault, Bernard Harms, Logan Heberer, Stephen Knipmeyer, Steve Lawson, Steven Lawson, John McLaughlin, Robert Reese, Ryan Stear, Larry Woods and Christopher Worden; Coaches: William Hopkins, Victoria Kipmeyer, Barbara Needham and Larry Needham; 2nd place
  • Wolverines from Pathway Services Wolverines of Jacksonville (pictured below) – Athletes: Tim Beals, Chad Bollinger, Kevin Bush, Gary Crawley, Willis Dickey, Sammy Flagg, Willis Grosclaude, John Henderson, Vincent Lobby, Jesse Mattern, Willie Mayes, Tony Rouleau and Nick Wedeking; Coaches: Doug Binkley, Michelle Larkin and Richard Larkin, Erin Mattes; 4th  place

About 450 Special Olympics athletes and 100 coaches representing 32 teams from across the United States and Canada competed. Teams were from Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. Competition included both traditional Special Olympics teams and Special Olympics Unified Sports teams (people with and without intellectual disabilities playing on the same team).

The tournament was made possible by Presenting Sponsor Moose International and lead sponsors ASA/USA Softball, Coca-Cola and Special Olympics Virginia, Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of Salem, the City of Roanoke and Botetourt County.