Sponsor Spotlight Stories

Clif Bar Teams Up With Special Olympics


Clif Bar & Company is a proud new supporter of Special Olympics, beginning with its 50th Anniversary event held in Chicago in July 2018. The event brought together 300 athletes from around the world for the first-ever Unified Cup — 16 male and eight female soccer teams comprised of young adults with and without intellectual disabilities. Not separate teams, but inclusive ones. Athletes with disabilities played alongside those without. All bound by their love of sport, playing the world’s most popular sport in front of thousands of spectators and culminating in nationally televised finals matches on ESPN2.

“We believe sports can be a powerful force for social good,” said Thao Pham, Vice President of Community at Clif Bar. “Sports can transform lives — those of the athletes themselves and those of the others they impact. People who are intellectually disabled shouldn’t be excluded from that. We live in a time where fostering inclusivity is more important than ever.”


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.”

Comcast Transforming Lives


From PyeongChang to Seattle with Comcast

Twenty-eighteen is an exciting year for elite athletes!  We enjoyed the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in February and the PeyongChang 2018 Paralympics in March, and this summer, it will be time for our Special Olympics athletes to shine at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, Washington!

To celebrate the courage and tenacity of ALL athletes, and the excitement of elite competition, Comcast held a celebration at their STUDIO Xfinity facility in Chicago during the Olympic Winter Games.  Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, the official U.S. broadcast partner of the Olympics through 2032.

While watching ski and snowboard competition on giant screens in high definition, guests enjoyed a cross-cultural buffet of Korean and American delicacies.  Three incredible athletes were in attendance: Emily Brydon, a retired Olympic downhill skier from Canada, Tucker Dupree, a Paralympics swimming champion from the United States, and our very own, Ashley Jones, part of the 2018 Team Illinois gymnastics team.  Debra Marton, Senior Manager of Community Investment at Comcast who helped bring everyone together offered, “What a beautiful group of people that came out to celebrate the Olympics with us!  Ashley Jones is a sweetheart and I can see why she was chosen as one of the Team Illinois Athletes.” 

After a warm welcome from Matt Summy, Vice President of External & Government Affairs at Comcast, the audience listened intently to highlights for Special Olympics Illinois in 2018, and then learned about Ashley’s story through a short film.   After a round of applause and high-fives for Ashley and Jones family, Matt announced that Comcast would donate $5,000 to Special Olympics Illinois to underwrite the costs of ceremonial uniforms for Team Illinois.

Held just once every four years, the USA Games offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our athletes to travel the country and compete at the highest levels in their sport as part of the Illinois delegation.  In Seattle, Team Illinois will also enjoy the pageantry of opening and closing ceremonies, meet professional athletes from their favorite sports, and experience a very special Fourth of July celebration at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium.   Team Illinois for 2018 includes fifty-two athletes, competing in eight sports: athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, artistic gymnastics, swimming, powerlifting and tennis.

We have high expectations for these fierce competitors, and know they will represent Illinois proudly.  Now, thanks to our friends at Comcast, they will look every bit like the champions they are!

If your organization is interested in learning more about USA Games and Team Illinois, and helping our athletes get to Seattle, contact Michelle Weiner, Director of Strategic Development at 312-972-5616 or mweiner@soill.org.

Pro Football Weekly to Commemorate 50th Anniversary


Special Olympics and Pro Football Weekly both turn 50 this year and the celebration has begun with Pro Football Weekly’s “Team for the Ages” campaign! Now is the time to select a roster of the 50 greatest players of the last 50 years, by clicking here. Fans participating in the selection process will be eligible for grand prizes, including an all-inclusive package to the “Big Game” at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in February 2019. Daily and weekly prizes also will be awarded during the voting from now until May 17.

Jamaal Charles, two-time All-Pro and Special Olympics athlete

Additionally, a documentary is planned for a fall 2018 release. The production will feature the players selected to the team, as well as a behind–the–scenes look at the selection process. The documentary will air on select television outlets during the 2018 season.

In September, Pro Football Weekly will screen the documentary at a VIP premier, celebrating Special Olympics 50th Anniversary as well, of which will become the beneficiary of choice, in the Chicago area. Select members of the team are expected to attend the screening.

The anniversary celebration has kicked off and is underway, when fans will be able to select a roster of the 50 greatest players of the last 50 years. Fans participating in the selection process will be eligible for grand prizes, including an all-inclusive package to the “Big Game” at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in February 2019. Daily and weekly prizes also will be awarded during the voting, which is open now to May 17. Fans can vote for their team at ProFootballWeekly.com.

Player selections will be announced beginning June 18. PFW will name one player each day  through Sept. 3. The coach of PFW’s “Team for the Ages” will be named on Sept. 4. The NFL’s regular season kicks off on Sept. 6.

A special “Team for the Ages,” collector’s edition will be published later this year. Produced in a hybrid book/magazine format, the publication will be available on newsstands and in bookstores in the fall.

Executive Editor and Special Olympics Illinois Foundation Board member, Hub Arkush has been around since PFW’s inception and has led the multimedia enterprise for over 40 years. “Over that time we’ve broken more than a little ground in how the NFL has been covered and reported on,” Arkush said. “A great deal of our focus has been based in the independent evaluation of talent. PFW was the first to select an All-Pro team from both the NFL and AFL in 1968 – several years before interleague play began.”

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Corporate Sponsors, Sales Teams Ensure Success of Chicago Ducky Derby


This Aug. 4, Special Olympics Illinois will once again flood the Chicago River with 60,000 rubber ducks in support of the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. To ensure the success of the event, we rely on corporate sponsors and sales teams.

One of the Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby sponsors, Hollister Inc., has been sponsoring the Ducky Derby since its inception.

“Special Olympics Illinois is a great organization that makes a tremendous impact on so many people across the state,” says Patrick Noble, General Manager, US Critical Care and Continence Care, Hollister Inc.

“The Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby is one of the organization’s most successful fundraisers and Hollister Inc. is proud to be a long-term sponsor of this event as well as a committed partner of Special Olympics Illinois.”

Duck adoption teams are crucial to the success of the Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby, as they account for 70 percent of the overall duck adoptions.

Duck adoption teams range from groups of friends and families to large corporations. These teams are forming throughout Illinois and compete for bragging rights and great incentive prizes.

Durham School Services has been the top corporate fundraising team for the past nine years.

“Durham School Services is proud to support Special Olympics, our No. 1 philanthropic cause,” said David A. Duke, CEO of National Express LLC, Durham’s parent company.

“Our team enjoys coming together and dedicating their time to an organization that makes a significant impact in the lives of others. The annual Rubber Ducky Derby event is one of many Special Olympics events that showcases our great team approach. We have been recognized as the top corporate sales team for the last nine years; only through our teamwork and dedication is this accomplishment possible.”

If groups or companies would like more information about getting involved, contact Shelley Chenoweth at 630-942-5619. For more information, please visit www.chicagoduckrace.com.

Those interested in supporting an existing sales team should visit www.chicagoduckrace.com. You can adopt a duck for $5, a Quack Pack (6 ducks for $25), a Flock of Ducks (24 ducks for $100) of new this year a Diamond Duck Pack (240 ducks for $1,000) for your chance to win one of the Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby’s great prizes including a brand new 2016 Chevy Malibu donated by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Chevy Dealers or an all-inclusive Apple Vacation.

The Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby is presented by Jewel Osco. Thank you to TD Ameritrade, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Big Ten Network, Chicago Sun-Times, Durham School Services, Dunkin’ Donuts, Fox 32 Chicago, Illinicare, Hollister, Lakeshore Recycling, 93.9 MyFM, BIG 95.5, and 103.5 KISSFM for sponsoring the event.