President’s Message: 2022 Quarter 2

The best way to predict the future is to create it. – Peter Drucker

When Tom Carski, Ed Mitchell, and John Rigley founded Special Olympics Maryland in 1970 they could have never predicted what Special Olympics Maryland would look like in 2022. What they did, was create a future where through sport we give our athletes an opportunity to show “what’s possible” in response to a largely skeptical world. On June 17th, all three Founders were present at our Torch Gala in SECU Arena where they witnessed 23 athletes actively engaged in the event which raised $218,000 on the eve of our first full-scale Summer Games at Towson since 2019. These athletes greeted our guests, shared their autographed trading cards, and even provided artwork for the silent auction. The night was guided by the evening’s theme, Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. We were joined by Matthew Roman with his brother Greg, Thomas Smith, with his mother Lavonne, and Peris Bennett, with his coach Bob Signor who all shared their stories that no one would have predicted but that they created.

Ed Mitchell, Tom Carski, John Rigley, and Jim Schmutz at the 2022 Torch Gala

As recently as 1983 the life expectancy of a person with Down Syndrome was 25 years. Matthew Roman was born in 1970 so at age 52 he has doubled the life expectancy predicted by doctors during his youth. Matthew competed in bocce at Special Olympics New Jersey’s Summer Games in June, as he continues to create his own future. Thomas Smith can deadlift 380 pounds…no one would have ever predicted that was possible when he was first identified as having an intellectual disability. Thomas also possesses leadership skills that most would have thought unattainable. When Greg Roman (Matthew’s brother) joined the Baltimore Ravens as their Offensive Coordinator, Thomas contacted Coach, this led to their friendship and resulted in Coach Roman attending our Torch Gala this year. Thomas continues to create his own future. Peris Bennett competed in Bocce at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games which provided a memorable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. More importantly, through our year-round Unified Sports program (which is a mixed team of those with and without intellectual disabilities) Peris’ experiences on his soccer, basketball, and bocce teams provide opportunities to forge friendships that fill a void while enhancing his everyday life. Thanks to family members like Greg and Lavonne and coaches like Bob, our athletes are afforded opportunities to create their future.

In April and May, athletes competed in 21 qualifying competitions in bocce, cheer, softball, swimming, and track and field in preparation for our Summer Games. High School student-athletes were able to complete their first full spring season in interscholastic unified bocce and track and track and field in 2019 which culminated in a series of District Championships leading into our State Championships in May. Among the many notable accomplishments, Crofton High School (which opened virtually in September 2020) beamed with pride in knowing that the school’s first state championship banner will be for their interscholastic unified bocce championship. No one would have predicted that Unified Bocce would have been the first sport in which Crofton High School achieved their first state championship…they created it.

I am proud of our delegation of 186 athletes, coaches, and volunteers who represented all of Maryland at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando. Team Maryland athletes competed in basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, golf, powerlifting, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, and track, and field. This was a true team effort that included raising $349,267 through team member peer-to-peer fundraising efforts. Thanks to the athletes, coaches, family members, volunteers, and supporters of this team for helping create an exceptional experience.

Summer Games kicked off with an athlete-inspired opening ceremony that included SOMD athletes Sam Livingston and Monique Matthews as our co-emcees and featured SOMD athletes from Howard County Brandon McLarin as our keynote speaker. 792 athletes competed in cheer, bocce, softball, swimming, and track and field. We also had over 130 athletes complete healthy athlete screenings during their downtime at the Games. During the Games, we took great pride in celebrating our athletes, families, coaches, volunteers, and supporters, all of whom are game changers. We saw our athletes run, jump, throw, swim, cheer, hit, field, run the base paths, and play bocce. The interactive inclusive nature of the Games included longtime volunteers who returned with great enthusiasm and volunteered alongside first-time volunteers who have never interacted with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Everyone’s life was transformed and forever enlightened by their experience. Our athletes created that for them.

As we move forward into our fall season, please make no mistake — we still have work to do. We currently have 4,340 active athletes as compared to the pre-pandemic number of 8,716 active athletes in 2019. For every athlete, we serve there are 14 more individuals with intellectual disabilities on the sidelines who can benefit from our program. Your investment serves as a catalyst in our efforts to be laser-focused on re-connecting with previously active athletes, while also seeking to recruit new athletes who have never been active in our program. On behalf of all our athletes, families, coaches, and volunteers, thank you for making a difference in their lives. Through sport, you are helping to create a world where opportunity is not limited by disability.

James C. Schmutz
President & CEO

Click here to view the entire 2022 Quarter 2 IMPACT eNewsletter