Project Unify Stories

Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All Stars


Created with the goal of bringing people together, Special Olympics Unified Sports teams have more than half a million participants worldwide who work together to break down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities. Unified Sports joins athletes both with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to promote social inclusion through shared training and competition exercises with the principle that training and playing together is the quickest path to friendship and understanding.

The All Star team will be coached by David Dore (Homewood Flossmoor High School), Kelly O’Reilly (School District 54), Paul Caldwell (Chicago Fire) and Caleb Steffens (Chicago Fire), with support from Jessica Yavitz (Chicago Fire) and Jennifer Marcello (Special Olympics Illinois).

The Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All-Star Team will practice monthly at Fire training facilities. They will also travel with the Chicago Fire to play a road game in addition to hosting a match in Chicago. The game schedule includes:

Saturday, June 17 at New England Revolution (Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, MA)
Saturday, Aug. 5 vs. New England Revolution (Toyota Park – Bridgeview, IL)

Team Bios


Unified Partners

Supporting Documents

Why do we do what we do?


Each person involved in Unified Champion Schools, and Special Olympics does it for their own reasons.  They each have wonderful experiences that build up to this day, and this moment. What brings us together?  The belief that everyone deserves respect!

Here are some stories from the members of the Unified Champion Schools Youth Activation Committee!

What’s your story? 

My experiences and how I got to the position I am today is one of my favorites. It started in my freshman year of high school. At my school you are required to take 6 quarters of PE to graduate. I was chosen to be a part of the adaptive PE and from there the story begins. Today I have taken all four years of adaptive PE because it’s my beginning and favorite part of the day. My junior year I started to go to the teachers room to work with the students with disabilities instead of going to my study hall. Also my junior year was the first year that I was a key club officer and actually the first male key club officer. Then my teacher asked me to go with him to the YAC summit. From there everything boomed. I have realized that this is not only a passion of mine but also what I want to do for the rest of my life. I have never been so blessed in my life thanks to the amazing friends I have made. They are my other family and I am so happy I have this opportunity.

It has been fun to be a part of Unified Champion Schools. I enjoy playing Soccer, Flag Football, Bowling, and Basketball. I like helping my teammates and making friends.

I am a 15 year old Freshman. This year is my second year in YAC but my fifth year being involved with Special Olympics in general. Back when I was in fifth grade, I always had interest in working with kids, with and without disabilities. I fortunately got that opportunity and it started a love for working with kids that everybody labeled different, but I knew we were the same as me. As time went on, I started wondering what else I could do with my newly found passion. My teacher thankfully introduced me to the many Unified Sports that were available. My 7th and 8th grade year I played both Bocce and Soccer, and fell in love with it, which led me to apply for the YAC Committee where I am right now, and where I am planning on staying as long as I can. I would like to expand what sports I can play through Special Olympics so I can get a chance for my love to grow for Special Olympics. Also, with being accepted into the Committee, I have met a lot more people that share my passion and that try to involve Special Olympics into their everyday lives. Special Olympics has given me the opportunities that no other thing has given me. As long as I am able to participate in these activities, I will not throw away my passion for anything in the world.

In sixth grade my teacher came to my team and asked if anyone would be interested in helping students with special needs in PE (our tutorial).  I signed up, not knowing that it would change my perspective on respect, on people, and on the world.  I did it every Tuesday and Thursday and those days, turned into my favorite days.  I met my partner and we had fun together, so I’m hoping he did.  I don’t know if many people realize it, but adapted PE doesn’t just impact the athletes, it leaves a mark on the partners too, if not a bigger one.  We left the gym every day knowing that we changed the world.  Maybe not in the world’s eyes, but in our partners.  We helped them do what they love.  Just knowing that they were happy, was all of the thanks we needed.  Nobody will understand how amazing it is, until they’ve done it themselves.  I am doing this because I want to continue to spread respect and love to the kids with special needs.  I love getting to work with them and I can’t thank God enough for giving me the opportunity to do so.  They are the sweetest things in the world, people just have to be willing to give them a chance. My memories with my friends, and the memories that are to come, are memories that I will never forget, because the day I stepped into that gym, my view on the world, completely changed.   

Check out our blog in the upcoming weeks to see more of our stories!

Spread the Word to End the Word – 2016 Theme “Respect City – Population Everyone”



Respect City 1Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics and our supporters to inspire respect and acceptance through raising the consciousness of society about the R-word and how hurtful words and disrespect can be toward people with intellectual disabilities. The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools, organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support  and promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


The annual day of awareness is held the first Wednesday of every March, This Respect City 2Year on March 2nd.   While most activities are centered on or near that annual day in March, people everywhere can help spread the word throughout their communities and schools year-round thru pledge drives, youth rallies and online activation.


Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the R-word.

Supporting Documents

Chicago Fire Soccer Club, SOILL Partner to Create Unified Sports Soccer Team


Special Olympics Illinois has an exciting announcement to make!  We are again partnering with the Chicago Fire Soccer Club to create a Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All Star team. This team will practice monthly at Chicago Fire training facilities and will travel with the Chicago Fire Soccer team as well as host another team here in Chicago.  The following games have been selected for participation by the Chicago Fire Unified All StarUnified Soccer Chicago Fire Logo Team:

  • Saturday, July 16, 2016 – Dallas TX vs. FC Dallas
  • Sunday, August 14, 2016 – Bridgeview, IL vs Orlando City SC

The team will be comprised of 4-5 Special Olympics Illinois Athletes, 4-5 Unified Partners and 3 Coaches. We are looking for individuals interested in serving as the coaches for this team.  We are also looking for nominations of Special Olympics Illinois Athletes and Unified Partners to participate on the team.  A school may nominate more than one set of students to participate on the team.

The clinic and tryouts for athletes and partners will be at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch on Saturday, February 20, 2016 from 4-6pm.

Coaches Applications are due to Jennifer Marcello by February 5, 2016 and we will be conducting interviews February 9, 2016 from 3-7pm at Toyota Park in Bridgeview to fill the coaching slots. Download nomination forms below.

Supporting Documents


Chicago Fire, SOILL Introduce Members of Unified Soccer All-Star Team


The Chicago Fire and Special Olympics Illinois introduced on April 3 members of the inaugural Unified Soccer All-Star team, a squad composed of Illinois-based teens with and without intellectual disabilities.

Selected were Special Olympics Illinois athlete Joshua Banty and Unified Partner Andy Torres of School District 23; athletes Mackenzie Carlson and Nathan Simmons and Partner Brenna Poncin of Normal Community West High School; athlete Adam Letcher and Partner Gerardo Valencia of Hoffman Estates High School; athlete Ryan McDonough of Waubonsie Valley High School; and athlete Warren Richards and Partner Jared Joekstra of Homewood-Flossmoor High School.

ChicagoFirePractice6130Over the next four months, the team will train together in preparation for a matchup with Special Olympics Oregon, which will be held in conjunction with the Chicago Fire First Team’s Aug. 7 road match at Portland Timbers.

With more than half a million participants worldwide, Unified Sports initiatives seek to break down stereotypes in a fun and empowering athletic environment. Unified Sports soccer matches feature 5 a side competition, with each side represented by three athletes and two Partners.

“Special Olympics Illinois is grateful to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club for allowing our athletes the opportunity to compete on the same stage as their professional athletes,” said Jen Marcello, Director of Young Athletes with Special Olympics Illinois. “Through the Unified Soccer All-Star Team we are thrilled to showcase the abilities of athletes both with and without intellectual disabilities and strive to drive home the importance of sportsmanship, respect and teamwork.”

On March 28, candidates from around Chicagoland and Central Illinois turned out to The PrivateBank Fire Pitch to participate in tryouts. Athletes were put through their paces by a coaching staff comprised of Paul Cadwell, Chicago Fire Director of Soccer and Team Development, and Special Olympics Unified Coaches David Dore of Homewood-Flossmoor High School and Julie Phelan of Hoffman Estates High School.

Following tryouts, the coaching staff named a team of six athletes and four Partners, who came together for their first official practice April 11 at Toyota Park. The group will receive training from Fire players and coaches as well as Special Olympics instructors throughout their preparations.

In addition to their August road trip to Portland, the Unified Sports team also will be recognized in a special send-off event during the Fire’s June 24 home match against D.C. United.

View additional information on the Special Olympics Unified Sports program.