Region I Stories Stories

Golfing for Gold in Decatur


Nearly 600 athletes and 18 Unified Partners competed in the 2019 Outdoor Sports Festival over September 7 and 8. This event, which serves as the state finals for those competing in golf and softball, took place at Rotary Park and Hickory Point Golf Course in Decatur, Illinois.

For Special Olympics Illinois athlete Allen Platt and his Unified Partner Mike Malcom, this also served as their Unified golf debut. The pair qualified for Outdoor Sports Festival earlier in July at the Region E competition at Chicago Heights East Golf Course.

Mike began coaching for the Grundy-county based agency Special Connections 16 years ago when his daughter, Katie (who has special needs), expressed interest in participating. Just starting out, the agency was in need of support with coaches and chaperones.

“I started coaching track and field… basketball,” Mike says. “As we grew, more people stepped up to help out so I devoted my time to golf.”

He also currently serves as an assistant coach for bocce and bowling.

Allen joined the agency six years ago and Mike became his golf skills, coach. He progressed to three-hole, then six-hole, and now Unified golf. When it came down to finding a partner, Mike was a natural fit.

“I was Allen’s caddie for three and six-hole, so we had gotten to know each other really well.”

Mike stepped into an advisory role in addition to coach. The pair were invited to play in the Region E Golf Outing in July where they qualified for Outdoor Sports Festival.

There, Katie, who also serves as a Global Messenger, was asked to give a speech to promote Unified Sports.

In Decatur, Allen and Mike also proved to be victorious bringing home the gold medal.

“I had been to Outdoor Sports Festival for a number of years from coaching skills to caddying, but being a Unified Partner was priceless.”

Mike, who has been a bowler for 49 years, has seen his share of partners and teammates but says being a Unified Partner is second to none. Previously, Mike also competed as a Unified Bocce partner as well.

“Having a partner who can lean on you and not judge or criticize you… is great.”

While he feels the competitive pressure from his partner and does not want to let them down, he finds the experience beyond rewarding.

“I will never turn down an athlete when they need advice about any sport or life situation.”

What’s next for Mike and Allen?

“We have already set our sights on defending our championship again next year!”

Dad, I Can Do It


Running has not traditionally been the sport of choice for the Baxter family, so when Melani and Doug’s daughter Riley said she wanted to run the 800 meter race for Special Olympics Illinois, it came as a bit of a surprise.  What made it even harder to believe is that Riley wanted to run 800 meters in spite of the fact that she was born with foot deformities, has had three surgeries on her left leg and one on her right, and she now wears orthotic braces on both for support.  But when Doug explained to his daughter that 800 meters is a half of a mile, she responded by saying, “Dad, I can do it!” and, with that, Doug proudly boasts, “When she says, “I can do it,” I believe her.”

Doug Baxter isn’t a stranger to Special Olympics Illinois.  For over 20 years, he worked at K Bowl in Effingham and has helped host SOILL Area 9 athletes for individual bowling events most of those years.  “Bowling is our “family sport””, says Doug. “I have been bowling since my youth and even competed in college.  Riley’s brother Carson is also an accomplished bowler already at the age of 8.  Riley has been competing in Special Olympics bowling for 3 years, and regular youth bowling for 5 years.”  It only seemed natural that bowling would be the competition of choice for Riley, and her dad shares her passion for that sport, too.  “I am excited for her to compete in bowling, as I get to be her coach!” says Doug. “Coaching youth bowlers has been a privilege of mine for over 15 years.  Bowling is a social sport that has built many lasting relationships in my life.  I am happy to say that Riley has experienced that, as well.”

Social, indeed.  Relationship-building is an integral part of Special Olympics, and Riley’s contagious spirit has lent her well in making new friends.  When bowling in a sectional tournament earlier this year, she met another athlete named Sheridan.  The two girls bonded and both were gold medalists at the sectional event which advanced them to the state finals in Peoria.  “When we arrived in Peoria for the state tournament, Riley was greeted at the door by Sheridan and they picked up right where they had left off the last time (and only time, for that matter) they were together”says Doug. “Having special needs, Riley has struggled in her life to make friends.  To see the interaction between those two was truly something special!”

Riley’s bond with peers can also be found through her interaction with classmates at Dieterich Elementary, where half of her school day is spent in special education and half in general education classes.  Riley’s coach and Deiterich Elementary Special Education Teacher, Nichole Lidy, shares Riley’s and other student’s excitement for friends and sports.  “Special Olympics has become something the students really look forward to” says Coach Lidy. “As students participate in Special Olympics, their eyes light up as they participate and receive their rewards. Watching the students get their medals makes it worthwhile as a coach.”

With her magnetic and caring personality, it is no surprise that Riley aspires to become a nurse or caretaker when she grows up.  For now, though, she will continue to focus on making strikes and spares, and running 800 meters, and ALSO competing in the standing long jump, leg braces and all.  Spirit?  Absolutely.  Drive? Without a doubt.  And when asking Doug if Special Olympics Illinois has helped Riley continue to flourish and portray her talents, he responds, “Special Olympics has given her the ability to set and achieve goals.  This, in turn, has given her the confidence to know that she can overcome any obstacle and achieve all her dreams.”

Continue to achieve those dreams, Riley.  We know you can do it because you say you can.

A Will and A Way


92-year-old Champaign area resident, Lyle Cole, has unique dunk technique raising money for the Mohamet Polar Plunge….”

When Speech Pathologist and SOILL Family Ambassador, Kathleen Williams, wore her Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge hoodie on the job, she didn’t know that she had an admirer.  Then one day when 92-year-old Lyle Cole asked Kathleen how he could get a shirt like hers, the challenge was on.

Kathleen explained to Lyle that he would have to raise $100 for Special Olympics Illinois, AND that he would need to plunge into frigid water to earn his own hoodie.  Normally either one of those criteria may cause someone to take a pass, especially if you are a 92-year-old resident of a skilled nursing home.  After all, it is only a hoodie, right?  Wrong. It is a challenge that Lyle now takes on each year with a passion.

Emerson Hjort, Kathleen’s daughter whom is a Special Olympics Illinois athlete AND Global Messenger, has accompanied Kathleen to Lyle’s home and has met Lyle several times.  It is unknown if it is Emerson whom provided the motivation for Lyle to become a Polar Plunger, but he takes the challenge seriously.

Lyle starts in December to get to his first objective, which is to raise $100, and has done it for two years now.  But as any plunger knows, earning the money is often the easier part of meeting the two-part objective.  Now on to the plunge in frigid water to complete the task.

Some plungers dive right in.  Others go waist-deep.  Others get to their knees while splashing their hands in the water.  As for Lyle?  He plunges right down deep to the elbow.  It works!  The water is cold in his plunge bucket, but the warmth in Lyle’s heart may actually cause that water to steam someday.

Thanks, Lyle.  You’ve proven to us all that when there is a will, there definitely IS a way.

Sign up to take the plunge, just click the button below to get started!

Coca-Cola Plunges for a Cause


The Coca-Cola Company is well known for its Polar Bears tumbling in the snow under the “Northern Lights” and enticing consumers to Taste the Feeling™ of a cold, refreshing Coke.  For so many, Coca-Cola is also recognized for its philanthropic efforts, including providing yearly donations of Dasani® waters for Special Olympics Illinois events, establishing scholarship programs for “exceptional peoples’ thirst for knowledge”, and enacting disaster relief support in communion with the Red Cross. But few know the grass roots involvement and community support that the employees of Coca-Cola provide to the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois, especially the employees of the Coca-Cola Distribution Center of Charleston, IL.

For the past five years, Tracie Montz, Business Supervisor of the Charleston/Champaign Coca-Cola Distribution Company, has been leading the Coca-Cola Polar Plunge team on their run into the “cold, refreshing” waters of Lake Sara in Effingham.  The Coca-Cola Plunge team participated in last year’s Corporate Team Challenge at the LETR Polar Plunge and raised over $1500 for Special Olympics Illinois.  In total, Tracie and her team have raised a little over $4,300 in plunge donations during their plunging years.

When asked what is Tracie’s favorite part about taking the LETR Polar Plunge year after year, she exclaimed “I love the team spirit and atmosphere.  The fact that we are helping Special Olympics, is icing on the cake”.

Through polar plunge contributions, in-kind donations of needs, volunteer support, and community presence at events, the Coca-Cola Distribution team of Charleston, IL has exemplified just how much their corporate team values and strengthens the communities they serve.  Next time you Share a Coke™ with a friend, think of Tracie and the Coca-Cola Plunge Bears as they prepare to take the 2017 Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge at Lake Sara in Effingham on Saturday, March 4th

CHS Trojans Give Special Olympics Athletes a Night to Remember


Charleston High School’s “Meet the Trojans Night” has traditionally been an event hosted by the high school boys basketball team to introduce both the junior varsity and varsity team members.  Then, the CHS players play a game against each other to kick of the year and boost fan enthusiasm.

Jimmy Peterlich

Jimmy Peterlich with 5 Charleston HIgh School basketball players. They indicate Jimmy’s success with 3-point shots.

This year, however, Charleston High School Coach Blain Mayhall made the night a little extra special by inviting Special Olympics Illinois athletes to join the Charleston High School players on the court for warm-ups. Coach Mayhall decided that all proceeds from admissions to the event would be donated to Special Olympics Illinois East Central/Area 9. But that’s not all – he also requested a game against the Mattoon/Charleston Hornets, the local Special Olympics basketball team, during half-time of the CHS boys game.

That is exactly what took place on Friday, Nov. 18, at the Charleston High School Trojans Gym. Crowds of Trojans and Special Olympics Illinois fans and athletes packed the gym for a night of excitement and inclusion. Special Olympics athletes from the M/C Hornets, as well as Charleston High School and DFI Sharks Special Olympics teams, joined the Charleston High School boys and girls basketball teams on the court before the game for warm-up shots, lay-ups and a little social dance off to boot.

Then, Charleston High School boys varsity and junior varsity teams were introduced to the fans, as well as the CHS cheerleaders, who were especially well received by the Special Olympics athletes. A fun and fast-paced first half seemed to fly by before it was time for the Mattoon/Charleston Hornets to scrimmage with the varsity CHS Trojans.


Two Mattoon/Charleston players at the CHS event

The 20-minute running clock scrimmage did not disappoint! While some fans were well aware of the ability of the Special Olympics athletes, some were in awe as they watched the Hornets go from single digits quickly to 26 points on the board. The Trojans were quick to rebound and showed strength in a comeback, but overall the M/C Hornets pulled out the victory in a 36-28 victory. M/C Hornets player Jimmy Peterlich, who also attends Charleston High School, scored five 3-point shots. Curtis Covington, Brooke Whitrock and Tyler Hahn of the Hornets also made shots for the win.

“This was such as success, and our students loved doing this for the Special Olympians. We have to do this again next year!” said Amy Jackson, the Charleston High School girls basketball head coach and CHS Trojans Special Olympics team co-coach. Athletes, families and fans will be looking forward to the event next year if the positive reactions seen on the faces of those who attended this year’s “Meet the Trojans Night” are any indication.

By Vanessa Duncan, Director for East Central/Area 9