Special Olympics New York Announces 2023 Coach of the Year Nominees

Winner to be Honored at Feb. 24 State Winter Games Opening Ceremonies

Albany, NY – Special Olympics New York is thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2023 Coach of the Year Award. The winner will be honored at the 2023 State Winter Games in Syracuse, during Opening Ceremonies Friday, February 24, at the Oncenter.

“These nine coaches are some of the most dedicated and influential people in our movement,” said Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “They volunteer countless hours to ensure our athletes receive the very best training and mentoring possible. We are proud to recognize all of this year’s nominees and look forward to surprising the winner at Opening Ceremonies in just a few weeks.”

Each of the nine finalists—one per region—were nominated by staff and evaluated by a committee of voters that includes previous Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year recipients. To be eligible for the award, coaches must meet minimum qualifications such as three years of service; providing multiple competitions per season for athletes as well as opportunities for further health, leadership, or fitness; demonstrating exceptional sportsmanship; and having a significant impact on the Special Olympics movement.

The nominees are as follows:

Aaron Reynolds, Capital District Region: Aaron dedicates his time to coaching year-round, leading athletes in powerlifting in the summer, floor hockey in the winter, and softball in the fall. In addition, he has shown a commitment to raising funds to support Special Olympics NY and recruited numerous new coaches. Local staff describe him as “a true asset to the Capital District Region.”

Linda Rainer, Genesee Region: According to her nomination, Linda is the ultimate recruiter for Special Olympics NY, always looking for new athletes and coaches wherever she goes. With decades of experience in golf, floor hockey, and volleyball, she has coached at almost every level, from local to national. Even outside of competitions, Linda makes herself available as a mentor and friend to her athletes.

Amber Mott, Central Region: Amber isn’t only a coach for Special Olympics NY—she’s also a clinician, fundraiser, and ambassador. She regularly promotes opportunities for involvement throughout her local community, helping to both organize and fundraise. Her training clubs continue to grow each year thanks to her outreach efforts.

Nancy Bellini, Hudson Valley Region: With more than 20 years of coaching experience in softball, basketball, volleyball, and more, Nancy is an amazing proponent of Special Olympics in the Hudson Valley. She has been all over the world as a coach, representing Special Olympics NY at the World Games in Japan and China. According to local staff, Nancy’s first question is always: “What can I do to help?”

Ellen Schuster, Long Island Region: Whether it’s coaching, donating, planning, or facilitating, Ellen does absolutely everything for athletes in Long Island. She works tirelessly to ensure her athletes compete at every competition they can and perform at their best. Ellen has also played an instrumental role in fostering athlete leadership in her region. This is her second consecutive Coach of the Year nomination.

Barb Thomas, North Country Region: Barb has an astounding 40+ years of volunteer experience with Special Olympics NY. Several of her athletes have served on their local Athlete Leadership Councils, which is a testament to her coaching ability. Barb is known as “one of the most trusted people within the North Country,” according to her nomination.

Marilyn Best, New York City Region: In the 2021-2022 winter season, one of our floor hockey teams entered the season without a coach. Though Marilyn had little experience in the sport, she nonetheless stepped up to coach “her guys,” taking them all the way to State Winter Games. Her dedication to the athletes continues in recruitment, where she regularly invites current competitors to share their experiences with prospective athletes. Marilyn has been a coach for more than a decade.

Karli Buday, Southern Tier Region: Karli has done an outstanding job building local programming, having founded three new training clubs in just a year’s time. She facilitates athlete attendance at public events and empowers them to take on leadership roles. She coached swimming for Team New York at last year’s USA Games in Orlando, where several of her athletes took home medals. In her relatively short time as a coach, Karli has made an incredible impact.

Kevin Anderson, Western Region: Described by staff as “one of the most impactful individuals in our state,” Kevin has coached swimming, golf, and bocce for more than 10 years. During that time, he has also trained and mentored many new coaches, all of whom hold him in high regard. Kevin has coached at the local, regional, state, and national levels, finding success at every stop.