The community’s very special athletes

June 1, 2016

Freeport Special Olympics athletes, coaches, and staff ride on the float during Freeport’s Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30. On the far left is head soccer coach Rick Fischer, third from left is Wayne Gimple, volunteer and parent, and on the far right is Therapeutic and Community Recreation Supervisor Tania Tomilonus. Photo taken May 30, 2016 by Teresa Tolliver

FREEPORT,IL This summer many will tune in to watch the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. The Freeport community has reason to be proud of their own Olympic team. Eight athletes will participate — twelve qualified — in the State Special Olympics Summer Games in Normal, IL at Illinois State University, June 10 through June 12.

The eight will be among four thousand athletes from around the state, sixteen hundred coaches, two thousand volunteers, and thirty-three hundred family members (see chart). The Freeport athletes qualified for the state games after competing in track and field events during the district games May 7, 2016 at Harlem High School in Machesney Park, IL and winning first in their events. The Special Olympics Team, managed by Tania Tomilonus, 24, the Therapeutic and Community Recreation Supervisor at the Freeport Park District, sent thirty-five athletes to districts, including two soccer teams.

Faith Krustinger, 17, a homeschooled high school student from Lanark, IL has been a Special Olympics athlete for the last three years. At districts, she participated in the 150-meter run in which she received a silver medal and the softball throw in which she received the gold.

Krustinger this summer will be playing softball, and in the winter will try basketball for the first time. She is also one of the eight competing at the state games in the softball throw event. Krustinger will be travelling down to Illinois State University with her mom, dad,and brother and staying in the dorms on campus with her mom. Her dad and brother will stay at a local hotel.

“Performing the National Anthem” Krustinger said was the most challenging part of Special Olympics. Krustinger sings and plays guitar in addition to sports. The past two years at the district games she sang the National Anthem during the Opening Ceremonies.

“(Special Olympics) gives us special needs kids the ability to feel special and not numbered” Krustinger added.

Chris Gimple, 22, of Orangeville, IL is also a Special Olympics athlete through the Freeport Park District. Chris plays soccer in the spring and basketball in the winter. Although Gimple’s soccer team won second place, as did the second soccer team from Freeport, Gimple was on Freeport’s first Special Olympics soccer team in 2009 that won state.

Gimple’s father, Wayne Gimple is a volunteer coach for his son’s soccer and basketball teams. Wayne has coached soccer for the last four years and volunteered with the team since the beginning. Wayne watched the expansion of the team from one to two, alongside head coach and volunteer Rick Fischer.

Tomilonus has been in her therapeutic recreation position for two years this upcoming October. A graduate of University of Iowa, her department has eight staff and seven volunteers. Special Olympics is one of many things she runs. Tomilonus also does programming, budgeting, running special recreation programs, registration, and volunteer recruitment.

Tomilonus said her volunteers are the head coaches, and she is head coach for track. Her staff help to support the volunteers and also run other community special recreation events.

As mentioned previously, only eight of the twelve that qualified for state will be making the journey down to the state games. Tomilonus stated that two years ago the Freeport Park District changed their policy about bringing individual sport athletes down to State Games, such as track and swimming.

“There’s not enough money or staff,” Tomilonus said. Individual sports mean that every athlete needs a staff personnel to escort them to and from their events, in addition to the cost of staying overnight in the dorms, provided by Illinois State, with the athletes.

If a team sport, such as soccer or basketball, makes it to State games, then the park district will fund the trip for the staff and athletes.

Tomilonus also stated the money raised through fundraisers such as the Polar Plunge and Knights of Columbus Tootsie Role Drive go into a general fund for Special Olympics Illinois. In the annual Special Olympics Raffle, the top selling team gets a percentage, but other than that the Freeport chapter does not have access to the funding.

If parents of athletes, or other community members, wish to find ways to fundraise for the team the Freeport Park District encourages people to bring ideas and concerns to the park district by setting up an appointment by calling 815–235–6114 or visiting their main office 1122 S. Burchard Avenue in Freeport.

“(The athletes) remind me to be a positive person and to be one to other people” Tomilonus said of the organization. She went on to add it changed her life and makes her a happier person.

Freeport Special Olympics athletes and volunteers are a small sliver of the Special Olympics Illinois organization. Freeport’s small community will have representation this June during the Special Olympics state games at Illinois State University among other Illinois athletes and volunteers. 7 of 2,000 volunteers are from Freeport and 8 of 4,000 athletes will represent Freeport. Total numbers provided by Special Olympics Illinois

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