A Message from the President & CEO –  November 2017

On November 12th, at a “friendraiser” at River Falls Swim and Tennis Center hosted by Fahimah and Shahram Bagheri, Laurette and Joe Salewski, June and David Trone, Special Olympics Maryland athletes Bijan Bagheri and Brian Salewski demonstrated their leadership skills by telling a gathering of over 100 supporters about how much it means to them to be representing Montgomery County as members of the Team Maryland tennis team that will compete at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. I am grateful to the Bagheris and Salewskis for hosting the event and to June and David Trone for their support of both athletes and their families. The athletes rallied on the courts, demonstrating the skills that will carry them to Seattle. They succeeded in raising awareness about the Games and about Special Olympics Maryland in general. The supporters who attended were also generous in making donations to support both athletes. We have a delegation of 76 athletes who will represent Maryland next year.

On the morning of November 14th, another Montgomery County athlete, Justin Hunsinger, who will also compete at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle as a member of the Team Maryland soccer team, shared his story with an overflow gathering of more than 75 ASRC Federal employees as part of their Town Hall meeting. To help you understand Justin’s impact I want to share an excerpt from an email I received within 30 minutes of completing the presentation:

“Thank you soooo much for you & your team’s presence today. I want to give a special THANK YOU to Justin for just being Justin. I tried everything in me to hold back my tears of joy for his enthusiasm for Special Olympics and his awesome personality. After the town hall, quite a few folks shared with me how inspired they were and plan to support SOMD in various ways. I, too, plan to support as well. Again, thank you for operating such a well-oiled machine.”

That same afternoon, Annu Singleton worked his magic in trying to motivate and recruit employees at WRA in Baltimore to participate in our Corporate Plunge on January 26, 2018 (see more about the Plunge in this issue). Annu connected with the 35 employees who attended when he rattled off a list of the 13 sports in which he has competed during his 18 years of Special Olympics Maryland training and competing in Baltimore City. WRA now has its sights set on raising the most funds to be recognized as the top Corporate Plunge Team. By the way, Annu also happens to be a member of our Board of Directors and typically plunges over 15 times during Plunge weekend.

On November 28th, St. John Properties welcomed Special Olympics Maryland athlete Josh Smith to their plunge recruitment lunch which was provided by our partner The Greene Turtle. Josh connected with Team St. John Properties when he shared his 2014 USA Games gold medal soccer game story. The game against Team Pennsylvania ended in a tie and went to a penalty kick shootout. Playing goalkeeper, Josh came up big, but so did his counterpart from PA. They both made saves that resulted in the shootout being decided by the goalkeepers shooting on each other. The PA goalkeeper went first, and Josh made the save. Josh then made his penalty kick and secured the gold medal for his team, which erupted into a wild celebration. Josh told the gathering how, while his team celebrated, he consoled the PA goalkeeper who happened to have cerebral palsy and used crutches. Josh helped his fellow goalkeeper to the sidelines to collect his crutches, told him he played a great game and then joined his teammates. Josh is also Super Plunger, which means he will plunge 24 times in 24 hours.

On November 29th, Special Olympics Maryland – Frederick County athlete Adam Hays attended a Frederick City Police department meeting to share his story to help motivate the team that is planning the upcoming Frederick Freeze on February 3, 2018. And then on November 30th, Adam made two Plunge recruitment presentations to our media partners WBALTV 11, 98Rock, and WBAL1090 AM. In addition to sharing stories about his love of cycling (he has already logged 1,500 training miles on the road this year) Adam shared that he was born with a condition known as hydrocephalus, which he describes as “water on the brain.” Because of the condition, Adam required his first brain surgery at 5 weeks old. Adam had 34 brain surgeries in his first 27 years. Now 33, it has been 6 years since his last surgery. The “rest” of the story is that had Adam been born six months earlier, he would not be alive today. Four months prior to his birth, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson arrived at Johns Hopkins and happened to be the one to perform the groundbreaking surgery on Adam that saved his life. Today, Adam works as a Digital Media Coordinator for Special Olympics Maryland. I should also mention that like Josh, Adam is a Super Plunger. Last year Adam raised over $10,500 for the right to plunge 24 times in 24 hours.

Also in this issue, we have a video profile of our athlete of the month, Jeffrey Covey. And if you want to learn more about the power of our Interscholastic Unified Sports (IUS) Program, read about Justin Bolton from North County High School who competed at our IUS tennis state championship on November 1st. Justin is an inspirational story and a great example of how IUS is impacting high schools across the state.

We do have a formal athlete leadership curriculum designed to develop athlete leaders, and on November 10th, former Ravens long snapper and current Director of Operations at our longtime corporate partner Aerotek, Matt Katula stopped by to address our athletes about leadership. And speaking of the Ravens, Joe Flacco will wear a pair of Special Olympics Maryland branded cleats on Sunday, December 3rd against the Lions as the National Football League celebrates #MyCauseMyCleats day. I am proud to tell you that Joe has been a loyal, thoughtful friend to our athletes since joining the Ravens in 2008.

So on Sunday after 300+ athletes finish competing in our state bowling tournament presented by the Sons of American Legion and hosted by Bowl America in Gaithersburg, we will all turn our attention to the Ravens. These athletes earned the right to compete at the state tournament by qualifying earlier this month at one of four regional tournaments. This is the last state championship of the year. Our athletes now are set to train for alpine skiing, snowshoeing and basketball.

In sharing these stories, I hope that I have highlighted these athletes as true leaders who generate greater awareness about Special Olympics Maryland. These athletes demonstrate that each of our 7,549 athletes has their own story to tell… all we have to do is give them a chance to be heard and then we need to listen. Our athletes are a gift and we want to share them with as many people as possible. Please see the video messages from our athletes in this issue. If you want to host friendraiser or have an athlete speak to your company, please let me know.

As we wrap up Thanksgiving and head toward the holiday season, I say thank you for your generous support that contributes to our collective, relentless pursuit of the best program for our athletes. They deserve it. We will continue our efforts to provide it. We will be good stewards of your investment as we build inclusive communities of dignity and respect. You can take pride in knowing that with your support, through sport we are creating a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.

Let me know what you’re thankful for. Email me at jschmutz@somd.org.

With warm regards,

James C. Schmutz

President & CEO

I’m pictured above with athletes Justin Hunsinger and Michael Heup at the Maryland v. Michigan football game on November 11th, where Special Olympics Maryland was presented with the $5,000 Fiesta Bowl Community Service Award.