On October 13th and 14th nine individuals from Marshall & Starke Counties Special Olympics attended the Special Olympics Indiana State Conference in Noblesville. 

This year’s theme was Growing Community…Connecting the Dots and the mission was to continually work together with all our athletes, families, volunteers, coaches, sponsors, schools, county programs, and agencies. Inclusive communities begin with each of us. Special Olympics continues to emphasize our athletes’ health and fitness, but also the support the family needs to build and plan for their athlete’s future. Over the course of two days, the conference has sessions about new ways to strengthen the community within Special Olympics Indiana.

Designed for program leaders, volunteers, coaches, and families, the annual Special Olympics Indiana State Conference provides valuable training in sports and program management. The highlight of the state conference is a special presentation to recognize the recipients of our annual Spirit of Special Olympics Awards, honoring Indiana’s most outstanding athlete, family, volunteer, coach, and Law Enforcement Torch Run officer.

One of the classes offered was for Corn Hole coaches.  Coaches had an opportunity to learn about the rule changes from the American Cornhole Association for the upcoming 2024 season.  The coach’s training covered scoring, qualification scores, and training sessions.  Marshall & Starke County Special Olympics was lucky enough to have their two cornhole coaches in attendance, David and Angela Banicki.

Some of the Management team members took several different sessions to help county athletes succeed!  They will be bringing back new concepts and techniques to help the program in Marshall and Stake Counties grow and succeed even better than before.  One of the very important topics covered is Athlete Leadership Council (ALC).  Most counties have an ALC.  ALC members are athlete leaders in our program.  Marshall & Starke Counties do not currently have an ALC.  This will be changing in the very near future.  ALC members will have an opportunity to share their voices for Special Olympics.  They will have an opportunity to attend Athlete Leadership University (ALU), held at Butler University.  ALU will help them as they are out in the community giving speeches and educating others about Special Olympics.  They will have opportunities to take coaching, refereeing classes, and much more.  It is a program that is new to us but sounds like an amazing opportunity for our athletes.

Joe Short, Jackie Ziaja, Sharry Russel, Alena Williams

During the lunch banquet, various awards and recognitions were given to areas for the past year of hard work.  For the Spirit of Special Olympics awards all 10 Area winners were recognized.  This year Marshall & Starke Counties had one of our nominations win in our Area.  Area 1 consists of Elkhart, Jasper, Newton, Marshall, Starke, St. Joseph, Lake, LaPorte, and Porter counties.  With great pride, we are proud to announce Theresa and her two grandchildren Caleb and Jared were awarded family of the year winners for Area 1! We want to recognize how important they are to our program. Theresa is the loving grandmother and guardian of Caleb and Jared.  Theresa is a retired doctor, Caleb is 14 and in middle school, and Jared is 24 and works part-time at a local diner.  Theresa experienced Special Olympics years ago with Jared.  Jared played basketball for Marshall-Starke Special Olympics.  Our program became dormant for years and when we restarted, Theresa was the first one willing to lend a helping hand.  She was so excited!  She essentially showed us the ropes. She always offered to help do paperwork, take attendance, tend to an athlete, and was the biggest cheerleader for all our athletes.   Jared plays basketball with his brother, Caleb all the time!  Jared celebrates HUGE!  With every made basket, there was an uproar!  He really gets our athletes motivated and brings a smile to all our faces!  Caleb was always very eager to help during our practices, so Theresa got him through the training necessary to become a volunteer and he became our assistant coach for our 3v3 team!  Caleb was very good with all of our athletes and shared his expertise in basketball with our athletes at a level they all understood.  He was so patient with each one of them. Theresa, Jared, and Caleb all attend church on a regular basis and are always advocating for our program.  Jared and Caleb have educated members of the church and have the entire support of the church behind them.  Caleb participated in Polar Plunge this year and was our top donor for bringing in the most donations! Theresa has gone all around town and handed out fliers for our pancake breakfast, has stopped at the local schools to let them know our program is back, and has brought in numerous donations for the program. Theresa, Caleb, and Jared have been to every fundraising event, have participated in our donation drives, and have been a huge part of the success of our program. We are incredibly thankful to have them not only on our team but as our family!  We are so grateful for their continued dedication and outstanding support for Special Olympics!