Special Olympics

Athlete Manny Isenberg also participates in the Region J basketball event at Wesclin High School while also taking time to connect with one of the volunteers.

Photos courtesy of Special Olympics Illinois Region J

The Special Olympics has been forced to cancel all of their spring events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer events may be canceled as well.

Justin Dunning, one of the regional directors in the Metro East, is in charge of all the fundraising and sports. Dunning said all local spring Special Olympics events had to be canceled. The events were going to be held at Edwardsville High School this year instead of the SIUE campus. Dunning said he agrees with the decision to cancel.

“Our population is usually [immunocompromised] individuals. [Our athletes] have a lot of things that go along with their disabilities, so safety is our No. 1 priority,” Dunning said.

According to Dunning, their events can have 500 people, including the families. He said with how quickly the coronavirus can spread, it would be very dangerous not to suspend these events.

Sandy Nash is director of development - Torch Run with Special Olympics Illinois, and she said the organization is helping their athletes both physically and mentally during this time. They are using social media as a way to reach their athletes and volunteers.

“Our CEO, Dave Breen, is leading some different exercise options that we put out once a week on our Facebook page. He also provides a weekly update on our Facebook page,” Nash said. “We try to get everyone engaged but keeping them informed.”

According to Nash, the Special Olympics is also posting different ‘thank you’ videos on their Facebook page. Their athletes are creating videos thanking the supporters, volunteers and officers.

Jim Morgan is one of the athletes who participates in the spring Special Olympics, playing for the Southern Illinois Grasshoppers. He has been an athlete since August 2005 and has played many different sports in his time with the Special Olympics.

Morgan is also one of his team’s global messengers, and he served on the Special Olympics Illinois board from 2009 to 2011. As a global messenger, Morgan is one of the few athletes that speak on behalf of the Special Olympics events.

“We do basketball, track and field events. We do bocce ball, and bowling,” Morgan said. “Several of [the athletes] on our team are global messengers, which means we speak on behalf of Special Olympics throughout the year at different events.”

Morgan was not surprised when he heard the Special Olympics had canceled their upcoming events. He said with the NBA and NCAA canceling their season, it was only a matter of time before his events would get suspended as well.

“It was really not a surprise. But I understand why they did it, [for] the safety and health of all the athletes. And that’s one of the things we strive for at the Special Olympics: health and safety first,” Morgan said.

For more information on the Special Olympics visit soill.org.

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