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