Buffalo, NY – Students with and without disabilities in Western New York have benefitted so much from the Special Olympics New York Unified Champion Schools program over the years that 12 schools are now playing a third sport: Unified Bocce.
In Unified Sports, people with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates. Inclusive Youth Leadership roles are also established at school, giving students opportunities to recruit, fundraise, and attend social engagements with their peers. Taken together, the inclusive sports and social experiences have led to enhanced school climates throughout the country where there is less bullying, improved academic outcomes and a greater appreciation of the abilities of all students.
“The power of Unified Sports is unparalleled,” said Special Olympics New York President and CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “Students make friends they may otherwise never get the chance to meet. They compete as equals with their peers cheering their teams from the sidelines. This unified generation is showing us all what true inclusion looks like and why it’s important.”
Four Unified Champion Schools added bocce last year: Dunkirk, Fredonia, Cheektowaga, and Iroquois. They inspired eight new schools to join them this year: Lackawanna, Orchard Park, Springville, Sweet Home, Cattaraugus Little Valley, Cassadaga, Pine Valley, and Silver Creek.
Winner to be Honored June 9 at State Summer Games Opening Ceremonies
Albany, NY – Special Olympics New York is pleased to announce nine finalists for the 2023 Athlete of the Year Award. The winner of this prestigious honor will be celebrated at the 2023 State Summer Games in Ithaca, NY during Opening Ceremonies Friday, June 9, at Ithaca College.
“These nine nominees are the epitome of what it means to be a Special Olympics athlete,” said Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “They compete, they lead, they fundraise, and they advocate, all in the spirit of our movement. We congratulate them all on this tremendous accomplishment, and we look forward to announcing the winner.”
To qualify for this award, nominees must fulfill extensive criteria, including at least five years of training and competition experience with Special Olympics NY. They must also participate in at least three sports and at least two competitions throughout the year.
The nominees are as follows:
Tom Mooney, Capital District Region: Hailing from Troy and competing in numerous sports, Tom Mooney has been a Special Olympics NY athlete for 26 years. During that time, he’s competed at the local, state, and national level, most recently earning several medals at the 2022 USA Games. Off the field, Tom also works as an Athlete Leadership Council member, a social media intern for our headquarters office, and a representative on the National Law Enforcement Torch Run Committee.
Jordan Root, Genesee Region: Not only is Jordan Root a star bowler, golfer, and soccer player—he’s also a dedicated athlete leader and fundraiser. He’s been a longtime member of the Genesee Region Athlete Leadership Council, and on this year’s Jersey Mike’s Day of Giving, Jordan personally made deliveries to local businesses. He’s been a Special Olympics New York athlete for seven years.
James Jewett, Central Region: As a four-sport athlete and member of his local Athlete Leadership Council, James “JJ” Jewett inspires not only with his athletic performance, but with his public speaking ability. His story of perseverance at our Winter Games Press Conference was so moving that he was invited to deliver it again at Opening Ceremonies.
Richard Fishwick, Hudson Valley Region: Over his 12 years with Special Olympics NY, Richard Fishwick has competed in basketball, softball, bowling, and track & field, finding success in each sport. He’s also an influential leader in his community, both with his fellow teammates and with his dedicated membership on the Statewide Athlete Leadership Council. Richard’s nomination form describes him perfectly: “He is an individual who leads by example.”
Matthew Schuster, Long Island Region: Matthew has been a Special Olympics New York athlete since he was eight years old. Now, at 40, he’s expanded his role even further. From competing in swimming, floor hockey, softball, golf, and basketball to volunteering at his regional office and our State Games, Matthew is a pillar of our community.
Erik Viscardo, North Country Region: Erik competes in a remarkable array of Special Olympics events, including bowling, snow shoeing, downhill skiing, bocce, fitness, and our Move Challenge. In addition, he’s a dedicated member of the Statewide Athlete Leadership Council, traveling more than four hours to attend meetings.
Jonathan Beiner, New York City Region: Jonathan is a leader in our organization in so many ways. As an athlete, he competes in five sports. As a fundraiser, he’s consistently one of the top earners for the Rockaway Polar Plunge. As an advocate, he recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak at Capitol Hill Day.
Anne Norby, Southern Tier Region: Though Anne has only competed with us for five years, she has already made an incredible impact. In addition to being an alpine skier, cyclist, and swimmer, she’s one of the founding members of the Southern Tier’s Athlete Leadership Council. Anne represented New York at the 2022 USA Games in Orlando, Florida, distinguishing herself in the swimming competition.
Ronald Ward, Western Region: As stated in his nomination form, Ronald “embodies the Special Olympics Athlete Oath” of being brave in the attempt. With more than 25 years of experience in softball, bowling, and bocce, he always conducts himself with class and integrity. Off the field, you can always find him fundraising for his fellow athletes, as well as advocating on his regional leadership council.
How early is too early to start with Special Olympics? Never! And our Young Athletes program proves it.
Designed for children with and without disabilities ages two through seven, Young Athletes is the perfect community program to get kids moving, socializing, and learning the value of inclusion. It’s best as a community-driven effort, which is why we’re so thrilled to partner with the YMCA in our Western Region.
In this article, we’ll delve into this brand-new partnership and show you how to find Young Athletes programs in your region.
So much of Special Olympics is about connections. When we find the right person in the right place at the right time, we can accomplish anything together. When our staff met Brenna Lupo, we knew we’d made a connection that would benefit everyone involved.
As the Vice President of Education and Child Care Services, Brenna oversees activities for some of the Y’s youngest members. Her dedication and enthusiasm for this partnership has been instrumental in its success.
“We are so grateful for our partnership with Special Olympics Young Athletes and the impact it’s had on Western New York children with diverse abilities,” Lupo said. “For years, Special Olympics New York programming has provided children with special needs an opportunity to grow and learn. As a mother of a child with autism, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find appropriate programming. YMCA Buffalo Niagara’s partnership with Special Olympics New York gives more area families an opportunity for their children to grow and learn in a safe environment.”
Three days per week for eight weeks, participants meet at the Southtowns Family and Independent Health Family YMCAs to practice sport-specific skills with other children. Each session is led by experts from the Y using lessons from the official Special Olympics Young Athletes curriculum. Like all Special Olympics programming, these activities cost nothing to participants. (In fact, we’ve even covered YMCA memberships for several kids!)
We are so grateful to Brenna and her team for helping us start this program. But what exactly do our Young Athletes learn, and what makes that learning so impactful?
In Young Athletes, kids practice sport-specific skills that help them develop into happy and healthy athletes. Furthermore, since the program includes individuals with and without disabilities, participants learn the value of inclusion and respect from a young age.
“We’re thrilled to offer some of our classic Young Athletes skills with this program,” said Michael Paglicci, Special Olympics New York’s Associate Director of Program in the Western Region. “Each week, the kids will engage in new lessons, including kicking, striking, throwing, and more.”
For a closer look at the program, check out some photos and videos below:
Using the excellent facilities and equipment of the YMCA, these have been some of the best Young Athletes programs we’ve been able to offer so far.
How You Can Get Involved
Your child deserves to play. If you think they’d benefit from a Young Athletes program like we have at our Western Region YMCAs, click here to let us know. We’ll do our best to find an opportunity near you!
Hamburg, NY – More than 1,000 individuals, students and sponsors raised a record-setting $450,000 for Special Olympics New York over the weekend by running into the freezing waters of Lake Erie. The 2022 Buffalo Polar Plunge was held Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3 at Woodlawn Beach State Park.
“The Inclusion Revolution is alive and thriving in Western New York,” said Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the students, families and community members who took part in this year’s Buffalo Polar Plunge, and for all of the people who supported them either by donating or volunteering. Each and every one of the 3,000 Special Olympics athletes we serve locally will benefit from this incredible demonstration of inclusion and generosity.”
Photos of Friday’s “Cool School Challenge,” provided by Volunteer Photographer Kelly Martin, are available for download here. Student teams raised a total of $140,000, led by East Aurora ($28,000), North Tonawanda ($26,000) and Iroquois ($20,000).
Photos from Saturday’s Polar Plunge, provided by Volunteer Photographer Ken Smith, are available for download here. More than $75,000 toward the total came in from corporate event sponsors, led by Towne Automotive Group ($15,000) and First Student ($8,000).
First Student incentivized school participants again this year with awards for top fundraisers and additional scholarships. Ava Johnston, of North Tonawanda High School was crowned Polar Queen for raising more than $8,000, and Ethan Spino, of Iroquois High School, was crowned Polar King for raising more than $5,000.
The Top Fundraising team overall was Team SantaCon ($28,500), led by Brian Mack, who was also the top individual fundraiser ($18,000). The top fundraising by a Special Olympics New York Athlete was Julia Harris ($1,750).
At this event last year, 800 participants raised $290,000. For additional details or to support this event, visit PolarPlungeNY.org/Buffalo.
About Special Olympics New York
Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 31,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with about 250 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports, where students with and without disabilities compete as teammates. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. The organization has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.com, making it one of the most trusted charities in the business nationally. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.
Happy New Year! Before we look ahead to 2022, let’s look back at 2021. We enjoyed countless amazing moments, but here at 10 of our absolute favorites. Enjoy!
#10: Be Brave Launch
In September, our athletes rocked New York Fashion Week with the launch of Be Brave, a partnership with Special Olympics, the Parsons School of Design, and fashion photography icon Nigel Barker. Be Brave is functional, fashionable sportswear designed for athletes of all abilities.
The team also created Be Brave gear anyone can buy. All proceeds go to our athletes! Find it here.
#9: Amsterdam Earns National Banner Status
Also in September, Amsterdam High School earned National Banner status! This distinction marks the highest level of achievement for Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools in the nation. Click here to meet Amsterdam Unified.
#8: Our First-Ever Esports Season
Three leagues, 26 teams, and 108 total participants. What a way to kick off our first-ever Esports Season! After that successful launch in March, we ran it back in June with a two-part livestreamed finals. Relive all the amazing competition here! And if you’d like to join the 2022 season, please contact your regional office for details.
#7: SEFCU Donates for Every Olympic Medal
In August, SEFCU pledged to donate funds for every medal won by Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. That became a $43,200 donation, which will help us send New York’s largest USA Games delegation yet to Orlando in June! Learn more here.
#6: Health Screenings at the Javits Center
152 medical volunteers, 146 medical screenings, and follow-up care for 22 athletes whose conditions might have gone undetected if they weren’t screened. That’s the impact we had at Javits in December! This was the first time we had all five health disciplines at an event in more than a year. Thanks to the volunteers who made it possible, and here’s looking forward to our next screenings at Winter Games in February! Learn more about our Health Programs.
#5: John’s Crazy Socks Surpasses $100k in Donations
Founded just five years ago by Special Olympics New York Athlete John Cronin and his father, Mark, John’s Crazy Socks has made a huge impact on our organization. Learn more about their amazing November milestone below, and see why there would be no John’s Crazy Socks without Special Olympics. Thank you, Game Changers!
#4: If You Don’t Have This at Your School…You Should!
Last January, we launched a video campaign that highlights the unparalleled impact of Unified Sports in schools. 90,000 views later, our fans still can’t get enough of it. Share the campaign with your school administrators to bring Unified to your school in 2022! Contact email@example.com for more info.
#3: Fundraising Frenzy
Whether it was the May One Mile, Go for the Gold, the Summer Social, the Buffalo Sun Bowl, or the classic Polar Plunge, we had a blast with fundraising all year. Our sincerest thanks to everyone who made these unforgettable events possible! Click here to keep the fundraising going.
#2: USA Games Athlete Surprises
We never get tired of seeing reactions like this. Kathleen, Jonathan, and so many more Special Olympics New York athletes were thrilled to learn they’re going to USA Games in Orlando. Let’s go, Team New York! Relive all the surprises at this link.
#1: The Return of Fall Games
Not only was October’s Fall Games the first state-level competition since the pandemic began—it was our first Fall Games in six years! There’s no feeling like being #BackInTheGame.
Thanks so much for making 2021 an unforgettable year! Looking forward to many more amazing moments in 2022.
$100,000 Donation from J. Michael & Alice Smith Inspired by Tom Golisano
Funds to Support Next Generation of Special Olympics Athletes with Intellectual Disabilities
Rochester, NY – Special Olympics New York today announced that it has received the largest individual gift the organization has ever received in its Western New York or Genesee Regions: a $100,000 donation inspired by the friendship of Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex, Inc.
In making the gift, J. Michael and Alice Smith, of Rochester, expressed their thanks for the friendship that Golisano has extended to them over the years and their admiration for what he has done, and is doing, for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“It’s difficult to find a way to thank Tom for all he has done for us personally and what an amazing impact he has made on behalf of the special people in our world,” said Mr. Smith. “In this small way, we try.”
“I cannot think of a more meaningful reason to support our inclusive community than a gift inspired by friendship,” said Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “Special Olympics New York is honored to work with Mike and Alice to thank their friend, Tom Golisano, by creating more opportunities for children with and without intellectual disabilities to meet new friends and grow together.”
The Smiths’ gift will be used to support the next generation of Special Olympics New York athletes through the expansion of the Young Athletes Program, which provides inclusive play opportunities for children of all abilities, generally ages 2-7. The program engages children with and without intellectual disabilities in activities important to mental and physical development, such as running, balance, and catching, while also teaching inclusion at a young age and preparing athletes for Special Olympics training and competition when they become eligible at age 8.
Tom Golisano is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader who has demonstrated an ongoing dedication and commitment to building innovative businesses, supporting numerous non-profit organizations (including Special Olympics New York), and advocating for inclusive health and several civic issues. The Golisano Foundation is one of the world’s largest foundations that award grants to organizations providing opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities. Golisano’s philanthropic contributions, both personal and through the Foundation, exceed $300 million.
The Golisano Foundation has been a steadfast partner for Special Olympics New York over the years and continues to be the largest non-governmental supporter of the organization’s Unified Champion Schools Program, which brings school-age students with and without intellectual disabilities together as teammates.
About Special Olympics New York
Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 68,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with about 250 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports, where students with and without disabilities compete as teammates. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. The organization has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.com, making it one of the most trusted charities in the business nationally. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.
Country’s Largest Special Olympics Chapter Celebrates 50 Years of Sports & Inclusion
Albany, NY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has proclaimed tomorrow, March 6, 2020 “Special Olympics New York Day” across the state as the nonprofit organization marks the 50th anniversary of its founding.
“For 50 years, Special Olympics New York athletes, and those who support them, have cultivated a climate of inclusion that continues to grow throughout New York’s schools and communities,” said Special Olympics New York President and CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “We are so grateful to Governor Cuomo for recognizing the impact of our movement and encouraging New Yorkers to reflect on the value of including people with intellectual differences on ‘Special Olympics New York Day.’”
Attached Photo Caption: President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman and Athletes (from left) Matt Graham, Kevin Brown and Ed Lawless receive “Special Olympics New York Day” proclamation.
The Governor’s Proclamation reads as follows:
Whereas, we all recognize the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles and the benefits of lifelong fitness and exercise for everyone; since 1970, Special Olympics New York has been providing training in a variety of Olympic-style sports for children and adults with special needs and intellectual differences, giving them the opportunity to participate in challenging competitive and recreational events; and
Whereas, Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country and the sixth largest in the world; the nonprofit organization serves more than 67,000 athletes, including children, youth, and adults, from all over the Empire State, providing them with an opportunity to compete in 22 sports, throughout the year; and
Whereas, in addition to these athletes and their devoted fans and families, the Special Olympics New York community includes more than 40,000 dedicated volunteers and more than 8,000 students in more than 220 Unified Champion Schools, where teams of students, both with and without intellectual disabilities, play competitive, inclusive, interscholastic Unified Sports; and
Whereas, this year, Special Olympics New York celebrates a remarkable 50 years of giving athletes not only the opportunity to play and enjoy a sport, but to become a champion; in the summer and winter, qualifying athletes come together for Olympic-style competitions at the exciting Special Olympics New York State Games that recognize a participant’s determination, training, goal-setting, and achievements and can even lead to the USA Games and the World Games; and
Whereas, today, on behalf of the people of the State of New York, I commend President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman, the Board of Directors, the hard-working staff of Special Olympics New York, the athletes, coaches, families, volunteers, partners, and all supporters on celebrating the milestone anniversary of the founding of this dynamic agency which will long continue to instill motivation, confidence, and wellness in aspiring athletes with special needs, now and in the generations to come;
Now, Therefore, I, Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York, do hereby proclaim March 6, 2020 as Special Olympics New York Day throughout the Empire State.
About Special Olympics New York
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 68,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with more than 220 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.
The Special Olympics New York Winter Games are coming to Rochester on February 21 and 22 with more than 1,000 athletes and coaches from around the state going for the gold in six sports: Alpine & Cross Country Skiing, Figure Skating, Floor Hockey, Snowboarding, and Snowshoe.
To celebrate, we’ve collected nine inspiring stories from each of our nine regions. Congratulations and best of luck to all competing!
Miguel Rivera – Western
When he was just 24 years old, Miguel Rivera was voted Team Captain of the Friends United floor hockey team. Now at 26, he’s hoping to lead his team to gold at the 2020 Winter Games.
Hailing from Akron, NY, Miguel has played numerous sports over the past eight years. He’s supportive by nature, which is part of the reason his coaches and teammates elected him.
“I like to help people,” Miguel said. “I can help my teammates learn the sports we play. We are a family and I love being a part of it.”
Miguel and Friends United will compete in our Floor Hockey competition.
Rory Palmer – Genesee
For Rory Palmer, skating isn’t just a sport. It’s a huge part of her life!
Rory has been a Special Olympics NY athlete for four years, during which time she’s competed in Figure Skating and Track & Field. In addition, she’s a member of U.S. Figure Skating and participates in dance figure skating and synchronized skating. She enjoys both self-improvement and helping her friends become better.
Rory will compete in Figure Skating at Winter Games.
Steve Williams – North Country
When it comes to Special Olympics NY events, Steve Williams has done it all.
In addition to competing in Snowshoe, Basketball, Softball, Track & Field, Golf, and Bowling, Steve also volunteers for Law Enforcement Torch Runs, Polar Plunges, Cops on Top, and most other events happening in the North Country. In all, he’s been a Special Olympics NY athlete and supporter for over 25 years.
“I enjoy participating in Special Olympics New York programs because it is a lot of fun and it keeps me going,” he said. “I enjoy it the most when you get to see other athletes compete, and hang out with them. Plus the coaches and volunteers are fun to be around too.”
Steve will compete in Snowshoe at Winter Games.
Omar Barry – Southern Tier
Omar Barry (left) may just be 17 years old, but that doesn’t mean he’s new to our competitions. He’s already been an athlete for six years!
Omar loves the comradery of team sports and enjoys meeting new friends from other regions. His best advice for competitors at Winter Games: “You got this.”
Look for Omar at our Alpine Skiing competition.
Vincent Femia – Central
Vincent Femia’s love of sports competition began with a phone call.
When his middle school teacher informed him about an upcoming Special Olympics NY Alpine Skiing competition, Vincent jumped at the opportunity. Within his first year, he became a gold medalist.
Now three decades later, Vincent is still competing and still earning gold medals. He’ll be on the slopes of Rochester this month, and don’t blink. If you do, you just might miss him!
Charlie, Lucas, and Joshua – New York City
Charlie Wint commutes over one hour to practice with his teammates. Lucas Perez is loving his first year of organized sports. And Joshua Delacruz is a vital member of his team, despite being just 17 years old.
Together, these athletes play for the P177Q-Panthers. They began this season with a gold-medal performance…and they’d like to end it with another! Look for them at Floor Hockey.
Liza Ambrosini – Capital District
Liza Ambrosini has been a Special Olympics NY alpine skier for nearly a decade. But she admits she wasn’t always ready to plunge down the mountain.
“I don’t like trying new things but my parents thought it would be a good idea to join Special Olympics,” Liza said. “I was very nervous…Now I love it. I love practicing with my teammates and have made new friends…Skiing is my favorite sport in the winter.”
Liza will compete in Alpine Skiing.
Curtis Waller – Long Island
For Curtis Waller (right), sports are all about steady improvement. He started training in Snowshoe just four years ago, yet he’s already advanced from the 25 meter event to the 100M. He’ll be competing in Snowshoe at Winter Games this year, and he can’t wait.
“I like everything about Special Olympics,” Curtis said. “I like Bocce and I like Snowshoe racing. I like my team and I like my coach.”
Louis Jost – Hudson Valley
For Louis Jost, Special Olympics competition has led to success on and off the field. As a five-sport athlete with 15 years of experience, he’s earned more than 80 medals at various competitions. As a member of his community, he works as an assistant sous chef in Hastings, NY.
Find Louis at Floor Hockey, where he hopes to add another medal to his collection.
Good luck athletes!
If you would like to support our athletes with a donation, please do so here.
Monday, June 17, 2019
NIAGARA FALLS, NY – The Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise awareness and support for Special Olympics New York will host the Badges on the Border International Run bringing the United States and Canadian Law Enforcement together as they light the Special Olympics Flame of Hope cauldron – two flames into one – signifying unity for all athletes of Special Olympics.
2019 marks the 5th Annual Badges on the Border International Torch Run. This Torch Run will be the Final Leg in New York State as the Flame of Hope is handed over to our Canadian Brothers and Sisters as they carry it throughout Ontario into their State Games.
Members of the law enforcement represented by Federal, State and Local agencies from the United States and Canada will participate as follows:
Date: Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Location: New York Torch Run Departs from the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center (200 Robert Moses Parkway N.– free parking at the Niagara Falls Aquarium when you mention the Torch Run) 11:00 AM – International Lighting of the Cauldron – Rainbow Bridge
ALERT: Media requires Niagara Falls Bridge Commission permission in advance to access the property. Please contact Stephanie Dafoe in advance at 905-354-5641 / 716-285-6322 Ext. 4120. Stephanie will reach out to both CBP and CBSA media liaison and notify them of any media presences.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run is a time honored tradition of more than 30 years, led and orchestrated by the “Guardians of the Flame,” which includes more than 6,000 law enforcement personnel from 470 agencies throughout New York whose raise funds and awareness for the athletes of Special Olympics New York.
About Special Olympics New York
Special Olympics New York provides year-round sports training and competition in 23 Olympic-style sports to children and adults with intellectual disabilities at no cost to the athletes, their families or caregivers. There are 67,000 athletes and unified partners that train and compete with Special Olympics New York, the largest Special Olympics program in North America. For more information please visit specialolympicsny.org. #SpecialOlympicsNY