Special Olympics Family to memorialize director

Chrissy Miller, Contributing Writer


Special Olympians will be rewarded for their work at Area 9’s Special Olympics Family Festival. The festival is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday at Lake Land College.

Special Olympics area 9 director, Vanessa Duncan, said this year’s festival would be dedicated to Midge McDowell, who was Special Olympics Area 9 director for 25 years.

McDowell worked with Consolidated Communications, a business and broadband communications provider, to make this event possible. She was involved with SOFF committee until she passed away in late July.

To honor her memory, the organization is having the athletes wear blue bands that say #RememberingMidge.

Consolidated Communications has partnered with area 9 for the Special Olympics Family Festival for 33 years. Sarah Greider, the Consolidated’s Communications Coordinator, said the festival started when leadership at Consolidated Communications wanted to create an event employees could rally around that made a difference for others.
The festival started with around 250 athletes, and has nearly tripled in size with 682 participating athletes. Input from new sponsors, the community and new committee members have helped the volunteer base and added new perspectives on the festival, Greider said. However, they are always looking for more volunteers for the Friend-For-A-Day program.

As soon as the athletes arrive they are paired with a Friend-For-A-Day, who escorts the athlete around the grounds.

“Everyone needs a friend, right? Both the athlete and their friend can learn from the experience while having fun,” Greider said.

Michelle Marban, a junior special education major, participated in the Friend-For-A-Day program last year and plans to again this year.

“They teach you to get out of your comfort zone,” said Marban.

Marban was able to sing karaoke and get matching temporary tattoos with her athlete.  She said she loved being a friend for her athlete and participating in things she would not usually do without judgment.

Besides needing volunteers for the Friend-For-A-Day program, volunteers are also needed for serving food, working some of the games and helping with activity tents.  People who know and use sign language are also needed for the program.

“SOFF is about understanding, acceptance and inclusion,” Greider said. “It is about having a good time while you’re doing something for someone else.”

This festival, meant as a reward for Special Olympic participants, is the only non-competitive activity the organization hosts.

“The family festival is a day to reward our athletes for getting out there and being active. For being brave. For going up in competition,” Duncan said. “I know adults that are afraid to run a race and these are Special Olympics athletes that aren’t afraid to put in the work and get out there and do sports.”


The theme this year is “The Greatest SOFF on Earth.” Themes for the event are created based on what the organization thinks the athletes will enjoy most.

Performers from the Gamma Phi Circus from Illinois State University are scheduled to come this year to help further the circus theme.

Although she said the athletes consider the entire festival to be a blast, Duncan thinks the opening ceremony is especially moving. This ceremony starts with a parade that includes Santa Claus, Elvis Himselvis, an Elvis impersonator and ends with the lighting of the torch.

Three Special Olympians pass off the torch and light the cauldron flame. This year’s lucky athletes are Jimmy Peterlich, Brooklyn Schutte and Marie Finch.

Peterlich has won gold in bowling and track and field. His biggest accomplishment is his performance on the local Special Olympics basketball team. His team won 14-0 and he scored seven 3-point shots in one game.

Schultz is still in elementary school, and along with her many accomplishments in the  Special Olympics, she has raised nearly $2,000.

Finch is an adult from the Shelbyville community who has been heavily involved in the Special Olympics for many years.

“When the day is done and they’re heading home and there’s nothing but smiles, you can’t help but feel happy and rewarded yourself, that you’ve done something for somebody else,” Duncan said.
Both Greider and Duncan agree this event is a moving and worthwhile experience for everyone involved.
“My advice is for someone to just try it,” Greider said. “Put yourself out there and in a position to be a friend. You may surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it and how freeing it is.”

Eastern volunteers can sign up through the special education department on campus, and can contact the Facebook page with any questions at http://bit.do/soffden2016.


Chrissy Miller can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]