Congratulations to our 2023 Unified Bocce State Championship qualifiers!

Is anyone else craving chocolate?! 🍫🎉

Eight INCREDIBLE Unified Bocce teams from throughout Pennsylvania have qualified for the PIAA-Interscholastic Unified Bocce State Championship in Hershey on March 23rd!

This week, Special Olympics Pennsylvania held four regional events — at Geneva College, Glenn Mills Schools, Penn State DuBois and Penn State Schuylkill — to see which teams would advance to the big dance!

After the balls rolled and the PVC settled, these are the eight teams who will be competing for the title in two weeks:

đź”´ Chartiers Valley School District

🟢 Ellwood City Area School District

đź”´ Garnet Valley School District

🟢 Greencastle-Antrim High School

đź”´ Harbor Creek School District

🟢 Pennridge School District

đź”´ St. Marys Area School District

🟢 Susquenita School District

Congratulations to ALL of our Unified Bocce teams throughout the state! The sport is truly BOOMING in Pennsylvania schools and your commitment to upholding a high standard of competition while also ensuring whole-school engagement and inclusion for all is truly inspiring!

Best of luck to our State Championship qualifiers and stay tuned for much more to come!

Thank you to: The PIAA, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Aramark, Pennsylvania Department of Education

Maryellen Brown: 2022 Annette K. Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award Winner!

Every year, Special Olympics North America recognizes a coach for their contributions to their athletes, program and the moment over the course of their entire career.

We are beyond excited, overjoyed and flat-out PROUD to announce that Maryellen Brown is this year’s recipient of the Annette K. Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award!!!!

Maryellen, who is from Area M in the Capital Area Region, has been coaching Special Olympics for FIFTY-TWO YEARS!! Throughout the course of her illustrious career, Maryellen has coached athletics, basketball, floor hockey and volleyball. What began as volunteering as a college student at Lock Haven University has blossomed into trips throughout Pennsylvania and to numerous USA Games and World Games. Additionally, Maryellen has held a variety of committee positions, management team roles and served as a Sports Director and on our Board of Directors.

Maryellen,  also a member of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Hall of Fame, has helped train other coaches to achieve their true potential for more than 20 years and she’s the biggest fan and supporter of our athletes both on and off the playing field. She focuses on teaching our athletes the importance of health and fitness throughout training. When installing a new element in practice, Maryellen always explains why a drill is important and how it’s going to help the team achieve its ultimate goal. Her athletes respect and listen to her and also have a ton of fun as a tight-knit community.

Maryellen emphasizes the importance of how people respond when facing adverse situations, both in sport and in life, and the respect and admiration her athletes, peers and friends & family have for her perpetually shines.

Congratulations to Maryellen Brown — winner of the 2022 Special Olympics North America Annette K. Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award!

SOPA Welcomes Four New Clinical Directors!

Healthy Athletes are non-invasive screenings designed to offer additional support at no cost to our athletes and their families. They are designed to improve athletes’ health and fitness in order to enhance their ability to train and compete in Special Olympics. Each discipline is led by a dedicated volunteer, a Clinical Director, who spends months planning and organizing for the event.

Special Olympics Pennsylvania is thrilled to share that we have expanded our Clinical Director team. The additional Clinical Director volunteers will allow us to offer more healthy Athlete screenings in the coming future and in return help provide much needed health education and care to more athletes.

Each clinician has completed their training required by Special Olympics International to take on this role and we are so grateful for their time and effort. All four new clinicians will be joining us at Summer Games, June 8th-10th at Penn State University.

Dr. Jenni Waters: Special Smiles (dental)

Dr. Waters resides in Allegheny County. She is a pediatric dentist with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. She attended Allegheny games last May and most recently Fall Festival this past November. She is also a coach for Allegheny County in multiple sports , but her favorite sport is soccer! Dr. Waters says she “really enjoys working with SOPA, from the athletes to the staff and everyone in between. I love what SOPA stands for: inclusion, acceptance, family, healthy living and support. The athletes are truly amazing, and I love getting to impact their lives in a positive and healthy way.”

Dr. Michelle Sparks: Fit Feet (podiatry)

Dr. Sparks resides in Armstrong County, she is a board certified podiatrist/ foot and ankle surgeon and the owner of Ankle and Foot Care, a private medical practice that specializes in Podiatric medicine and surgery. Dr. Sparks was able to attend Summer Games 2022 and is excited to return this summer. She is excited to be part of our Healthy Athletes program. Dr. Sparks says she is “inspired by the Athletes and the effort they put into their sports. I appreciate the chance to offer them my expertise to support them to be the best they can be, while promoting healthy participation. By offering screenings for potential risk and education, it allows them to focus their energy on performing at their highest.” Dr. Sparks’ favorite SOPA sport is gymnastics, her daughter is a USAG sanctioned gymnast, so she knows how much time and commitment it takes. Which is why she is so impressed seeing our SOPA gymnasts and their success.

Dr. Rebecca Van Dyke: Fit Feet (podiatry)

Dr. Van Dyke currently resides in the Lehigh Valley but will be moving to Dauphin County this July! She is a podiatry fellow currently but will be starting her career as a surgical podiatrist and assistant professor at Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center starting August 1st. She is very excited to get involved with SOPA and looks forward to meeting and engaging with our awesome athletes. She hopes “to do this by providing the best foot and ankle care to allow them to play and have fun pain-free.” Her favorite sport is baseball, and we can’t wait for her to check out the softball games at this year’s Summer Games!

Dr. Sarah Wakefield: Healthy Hearing (audiology)

Dr. Wakefield is located in Centre County. She is a clinical audiologist with Mount Nittany Physician Group ENT. She has previously volunteered with Special Olympics Florida and is thrilled to join our team at SOPA. Dr. Wakefield says she “loves the energy of Special Olympics and getting to share in the excitement that the games bring to the athletes.” Her favorite sport is track and field!

Healthy Athletes will take place at this year’s Summer Games at Penn State University, June 8th-10th. Be sure to stop by to get your free health screenings and meet our wonderful volunteers.

Remembering our friend, Franco Harris

It is with deep sadness that we share that our longtime friend and one of our proudest supporters, Franco Harris has passed away. While many know him for his outstanding career in the National Football League, specifically his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers – during which he was named MVP of Super Bowl IX and later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – at Special Olympics Pennsylvania, Franco was family. 

Franco’s passion for uplifting Special Olympics’ mission of inclusion and respect never wavered since he first got involved with our organization more than a decade ago. He was a member of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Executive Advisory Board, has donated considerable financial support, spoken at many special events, volunteered for the organization in and around the Pittsburgh and State College communities, as well as served as the Official Race Starter of the Beaver Stadium Run since its inception in 2010. Additionally, he was the first recipient of the Beaver Stadium Run Community Hero Award in 2013.

Franco’s commitment to Special Olympics and our mission spanned far beyond time and financial contributions. His love and passion for sport drove him to share that love with Special Olympics athletes around the state. Franco made a point to congratulate every participant as they “Finish at the Fifty” of Beaver Stadium for the Run, shared countless moments with athletes, and inspired all of us with his grace and kindness.  

Franco was a remarkable athlete, businessman, supporter, and friend. His humility, enthusiasm and kindness will truly be missed by all of our athletes, volunteers, staff and event participants. We send our deepest condolences to his wife Dana, his son Dok, the rest of his family, and all those around the world who loved him.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

During the month of November, Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) is recognizing Diabetes Awareness Month by helping athletes learn about and prevent diabetes melitus (DM). DM is one of the most common diseases among Americans and affects those with intellectual disability at a much greater rate. Those with intellectual disabilities tend to receive fewer diabetes exams and less diabetes care than those without disabilities. By making healthy choices and making sure you see your doctor routinely you can help prevent your risk for Diabetes.

What is Diabetes Melitus? 

DM is a long-lasting health condition that is related to high levels of blood sugar. This condition relates to a hormone released from your pancreas called insulin, which helps us manage our blood sugar levels. For a person with diabetes, their body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should. This can lead to a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream which can result in serious health problems like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. 

There are different types of diabetes:

  • Prediabetes: Slightly high blood glucose levels in addition to heart health changes taking place
  • Type 1 Diabetes: A small or no production of insulin by the pancreas. This type of Diabetes is genetic and is not reversible.  
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Not enough production of insulin by the pancreas and the body is not able to use insulin properly. This type of Diabetes can be reversible with healthy lifestyle changes and weight loss.

To help prevent your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes or to help reverse a diagnosis of prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips below for more details.

Four lifestyle/nutritional tips for preventing Type 2 DM: 

  1. Participate in physical activity: 

Exercise can prevent type 2 DM by helping with weight loss, lowering blood sugar, and increasing your body’s ability to use insulin. Finding the sports and activities you enjoy can help you stay motivated. A goal of 150 minutes of physical activity per week can decrease your risk for Diabetes. 

  • Consume more foods high in fiber: 

Eating enough fiber is shown to provide many benefits like improved bowel movement, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels! Fiber is also important for those with diabetes because it helps manage blood glucose levels. 

High fiber foods

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Whole-grain foods like bread, brown rice, cereals etc.
  • Beans and legumes 
  • Oats 
  • Low fat Popcorn
  • Drink water and sugar free drinks

Sugary drinks and beverages can add to your daily sugar intake and total calories. Extra sugar that you eat can be stored as fat over time. Drinking soft drinks, fruit juice, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks regularly over time can lead to weight gain, which can lead to a higher risk of diabetes.

  • Eat Fruits and Vegetables, 3-5 servings a day

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber. They can be a filling way to add many vitamins and minerals to your diet and keep you feeling full and satisfied. Filling your plate with fruits and vegetables instead of extra carbohydrates and added fats can lower your risk of diabetes. Eating fruits and vegetables for snacks is a healthier choice than many high fat and high sugary snacks too!

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with Diabetes or Prediabetes it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to help manage your blood sugar and prevent any future problems related to diabetes. If you need help finding a provider in your area, Special Olympics Pennsylvania can help. Check out our Provider Director for Diabetes Self-Management and Education locations in your area.