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Special Olympics athletes enjoy pageantry, competition and camaraderie

Carol L. Pavlik, friend of Kiwanis Club of Elmhurst, Illinois | Jan 28, 2020

Volleyball On a rainy Sunday morning, the high school gymnasium roared with the sound of Special Olympics volleyball athletes, clustered together by team in brightly colored T-shirts. Handheld banners touted each team’s name. Just after the national anthem and the presentation of the colors by the Elmhurst, Illinois, Fire & Police Honor Guard, the players repeated the Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Sarah Burnside, then president of the Elmhurst Kiwanis Club, took to the dais, accompanied by Illinois State Representative Deanne Mazzochi.

“Raise your hand if you got up early this morning,” says Burnside with her trademark enthusiasm. “Raise your hand if you worked really hard to get to this point in your sport. Raise your hand if you made a new friend along the way. Elmhurst Kiwanis Club is so proud to call you our new friends. And now, let the games begin.”

Special Olympics athletes enjoy pageantry, competition and camaraderieLast September, for the first time, Elmhurst Kiwanis Club proudly co-sponsored the Region C Special Olympics Volleyball Tournament with the Elmhurst Police Department. The event drew more than 270 adult athletes, nine unified partners and countless friends and family members, and brought athletes together from multiple counties in northwest Illinois.

Burnside, who completed her term as club president in October, says taking on such a momentous event seemed like an ideal project for the club, which was established in 1932. Member Rich Rosenberg noticed that neighboring towns hosted tournaments and learned there was a need for a volleyball venue.

At a special club luncheon in March 2019, representatives of law enforcement, the fire department, schools and local and state government were invited to share the club’s vision. Rosenberg secured the spacious facilities of York Community High School for the day’s events. The Elmhurst Police Department shared the cost of lunch with the club and handed out medals. The fire department hoisted a flag on a shiny red ladder truck. Club members greeted, cheered and hosted a break room for officials. Key Club volunteers served lunch and took photos. Throughout the day, Elmhurst College athletes came to cheer. Each athlete received a custom Special Olympics red visor — a gift from the Elmhurst Kiwanis Club.

Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people, a theme embraced by the Elmhurst Kiwanians.

“Kiwanis’ love of service and community is in perfect alignment with the S.O. philosophy,” says Burnside. “Sharing the day with athletes who worked so hard, meeting family, friends and coaches, was both joyful and gratifying.”

Despite the competitive nature of the tournament, the generally lighthearted and friendly mood of the event was contagious.  

“Our team won two games,” exclaimed one player between matches.

“Good,” joked an athlete from an opposing team. “Win one more and you get to do my laundry.”

“This was a memorable day filled with hard work, determination and friendly competition,” says Rosenberg. “It was an honor for the Elmhurst Kiwanians to be part of this great event. We’re already planning for this year.” 

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