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As always, Special Olympics Illinois wants to provide athletes, families, youth leaders, coaches and anyone interested, with opportunities to …

Valid Med App Time Frame Extending to 3 Years


Special Olympics Illinois has extended the time frame for a valid Application for Participation from two to three years…

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

Parents & Families Greatest Resource Available to Organization


By Suzanne Thompson, SOILL Board Chair

Special Olympics is transforming the lives of its athletes through sporting events, new social experiences and ultimately allowing our athletes the opportunity to share their own personal stories. These stories reflect the passion, determination and success they demonstrate in every sporting event they participate in as well as the success they experience in their everyday lives.

Suzanne Thompson

Suzanne Thompson

We have the single greatest resource available to us as an organization and international movement and that is our parents and families. We are the people who know our athletes best. Am I certain of that? Indeed I am! I am the proud parent of a Special Olympic athlete and I know that as parents we are willing to invest our time when we can see the fabulous return on our investment. I have made the commitment to the program by serving on the SOILL Board of Directors and helping guide the program into the future.

This willingness to invest our time is why Special Olympics Illinois is developing a campaign to partner with the “experts.” Even though we live in a culture where our calendars are exploding with commitments, we know that our commitment to our athletes is time well spent.

Would you be willing to make that investment with us? We are developing ambassadors who are changing the hearts and minds of people they meet each and every day of their lives as they interact with others in their communities, improving the possibilities of employment as they learn skills required of all of us.

Courtesy, following the rules, completion of task, determination, teamwork and dedication are all required when an athlete experiences Special Olympics and also required in all of our lives, if we hope to be successful. Special Olympics is a vehicle that allows all of these qualities and characteristics to be born in its participants!

As part of our Strategic Plan and our desire to involve you in this life-changing family, we need and want to move forward working closely with you. We’ll reach for continued excellence for our athletes, finding effective and creative ways to develop and sustain the sporting events we now offer, draw more athletes into the organization, raise the number of volunteers participating and discuss new and effective ways to sustain and increase our financial supporters. Who better to help us with this than the parents who have everything invested because of our athletes?

We have a big job ahead of us, but no bigger a challenge then the challenges our athletes face every day. Let’s use them as our example and show them that their determination, persistence and success are things they learned from us, their parents!

When asked how you can help this family organization, I hope you will search your heart and mind and realize that you have so much to offer in ways that can benefit all of our athletes. With your creative ideas, willingness to commit and your firsthand knowledge of your athlete, we will make a dynamic duo. Our hope is that you will be willing to make the commitment to be a part of our team, because we know that together there is nothing we cannot do!

Special Olympics Illinois has created a family volunteer interest form. Please take a moment to look it over and let us know how you’d be willing to help make a difference in the lives of Special Olympics athletes.

Do you have questions about family involvement or Special Olympics in general? Email or Karen Milligan. Either Special Olympics staff or I will answer your questions in upcoming editions of the e-news.

Suzanne Thompson of Morris is the parent of Special Olympics athlete Caitlin and Special Olympics Illinois Chair of the Board of Directors