During the past school year, several Riverside-Brookfield High School athletes like Nick Callahan, Ryan Jackson, Kelsey Egger, Kiley Rusen and Vito DeRango excelled in their respective sports. They appeared in the Landmark’s sports headlines ostensibly as often as they scored a touchdown, scored a game-winning basket or provided a clutch hit.
There were 25 other student-athletes with special needs, however, who didn’t receive nearly the publicity of these star athletes, but yet displayed every bit the comparable heart of a champion.
Maggie Rogers, Jessica Volpe, and Tommy Orgler proudly represented RB at the Special Olympics Summer Games at Illinois State University on June 10 and June 11.
Maggie Rogers and Volpe earned gold and silver medals, respectively, in the tennis ball throw competition. Orgler, whose sister Meghan is a multiple-sport athlete at RB, finished fourth in the 100 meters run at state. Another RB athlete Tyler Hutcheson has medaled numerous times at state, while Brian Rogers is a competitive swimmer through various Special Olympics programs.
“It was great competing against six other athletes,” said Maggie Rogers about her Special Olympics Summer Games experience. “Special Olympics is great. I really like sports and I’ve met a lot of good friends. I like to be active by playing sports, riding my bike or going to the library. My parents have been very supportive.”
Hutcheson, a four-sport athlete in Special Olympics, recently graduated from RB. Like many area athletes with special needs, the 21-year-old participates in athletic programs at the Greater LaGrange YMCA.
“Basketball is probably my favorite sport,” he said. “I like to shoot baskets. It’s been good and I get to meet a lot of friends.”
At RB, Kristin Bamford and Dennis Haka do a wonderful job coaching the Special Olympians.
“It’s a great experience for both the student-athletes and parents,” said Linda Hutcheson, Tyler’s mother. “Kristin and Dennis really have taken the lead and do a tremendous job. It’s fun for everybody. Even parents can find a support network for each other.”
Offering swimming and bowling programs, the Greater LaGrange YMCA also has been an invaluable aid to local athletes. The Y has approximately 50 Special Olympians, including the following Riverside-Brookfield area residents: Jeanne DeCarlo, Jason Stuvee, Ian Martinez, Michelle Owrey, Joseph Ligeikis, Maggie Rogers, Brian Rogers, Hutcheson and Orgler.
At the Special Olympics Summer Games, the Greater LaGrange Special Olympians amassed 35 medals in swimming. Former Riverside resident Sara Mikelenas joined teammates Tyler Florcyzk, AnnaRita Solimene and Cynthia Ljubenko to win a gold medal in the 4 x 25-meter freestyle. Martinez teamed up with Sandy Dobias, Edward Mueller and Vaile for gold in the 4 x 50-meter freestyle relay. Coach Sheri DeCarlo praised the efforts of all the swimmers, noting particularly strong performances from Martinez and Owrey.
“Ian did a great job,” DeCarlo said. “Michelle has come such a long way with her swimming. I was really proud of her effort.”
Of course, medals and results are a far cry from what the spirit of Special Olympics truly embodies. Reflective of the Special Olympics motto, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt,” participants ultimately record victories that transcend any scoreboard.
“Special Olympics has helped Tyler tremendously,” Linda Hutcheson said. “It’s helped his self-esteem. He feels like he is part of a team making friends doing activities he enjoys very much.”
Teamwork is undoubtedly a huge part of the Special Olympics’ mission, but Jeanne DeCarlo recently earned an incredibly meaningful individual accomplishment. DeCarlo, 37, was selected to represent the Greater LaGrange YMCA and the U.S. in the Special Olympics World Games held in Athens, Greece (June 25-July 4). The World Games features over 7,000 athletes from over 180 countries.
DeCarlo, who has been involved with Special Olympics over 25 years, won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the Special Olympics Summer Games. After a phone call from the Illinois Special Olympics office, Sheri DeCarlo nominated her daughter to be considered for the World Games in Athens. After a multi-step selection process, Jeanne realized her dream.
“Special Olympics makes me feel good about myself and keeps me active,” Jeanne said on the Special Olympics website (www.soill.org). “I’ve made many friends; some are friends for over 20 years. We’ve gone to state for the last 22 years in aquatics and I know many of the officers and aquatics staff there.”
On June 17th, DeCarlo and her fellow Illinois Special Olympics World Games representatives were treated to a big party sendoff at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chicago, hosted by sports personality Lou Canellis.
The Illinois contingent of athletes hopped on a plane to Baltimore to meet the rest of the U.S. team on June 18. Upon arrival in Greece, the team trained on the island of Rhodes, Greece in the eastern Aegean Sea. After their mini-training camp, the group took a 12-hour ferry ride to Athens for the June 18th Opening Ceremonies.
Sheri DeCarlo and about 10 other family members will attend the Special Olympics World Games to support Jeanne, who will compete in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 4 x 50-relay team.
“Jeanne is ecstatic about the World Games,” Sheri said. “She’s been competing in the state games and winning medals for over 20 years, but we never thought this opportunity happen for her. I think she’s very proud to represent the [Greater LaGrange] YMCA and the USA. She loves her country.”