Volunteer of the Month: Chris Ebling

Volunteers are the backbone of Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Without our volunteers, we’d never be able to provide competition, leadership, health and so many other opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Pennsylvania.

Congratulations to Chris Ebling, Schuylkill County’s Team Leader, for being named our Volunteer of the Month for April 2023!

We took a minute to catch up with Chris about his time with Special Olympics, his motivation, his county and so much more. Congratulations Chris!

“Me and my wife have four children, three who are biological brothers and sisters we adopted. We got active in Special Olympics about 10-15 years ago and they started swimming, started doing basketball. I was one of those parents that sat back and watched. At that time I thought, ‘maybe our local program could do so much more.’ Then I became more active and I took the helm about two years ago. …

I absolutely love it. I like running our program like any other sporting event. We get team pics, we do spirit wear, we do games, we take transportation. In our eyes our athletes are no different than college or high school athletes. I treat our athletes like they should be treated. They make it to Penn State? Yeah, we’re gonna have a pep rally, yeah we’re gonna have a parade. …

I don’t take credit for it because there are so many people around me that make it happen. It’s not just me, it’s the great group of volunteers that I have. When I took over, we offered two sports: basketball and volleyball. Now, this weekend at Kutztown it’ll be the first time in many years we’re taking five teams down in five different sports. We’re growing. We’re growing very fast. It’s just like a family. The parents all sit together and conversate, other athletes have become friends with one another. It’s amazing to see. …

I work at it more than I do at my paid job, but it’s OK. A lot of it is word of mouth. We bust our butts. We’re blessed. I think we’re really making the right connections. We do a lot of community outreach. We’ll go to street fairs, we’ll have pencils or frisbees made up. People are coming to me wanting to sign up. They want to help. …

I would say my favorite times are just watching the athletes. I always say I don’t get paid, but I get paid with smiles. I just enjoy when the athletes are excited with something. It’s not about me, it’s about my athletes and volunteers. …

Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But let’s give it a chance. Let’s grow. We’re giving Schuylkill athletes a chance.”

Chris was nominated by Joshua Cunningham, who said this about Chris:

“Chris is one of the most dedicated and selfless individuals that I have met in a very long time. Not only does he spend countless hours volunteering he does it with the utmost integrity, honesty, and care for others. His unwavering commitment to make sure everyone is taken care of to the highest standard and his impressive work ethic for volunteering and his day job at the same time is an inspiration. He is an exceptional volunteer and an even better person. His dedication, selflessness, and caring nature are truly admirable, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him.”

Joshua Cunningham, on Chris Ebling

John Campbell’s weight loss journey

This year at Indoor Winter Games, John Campbell was very proud of himself. He was proud not just because he won a gold medal in bowling but because he had recently lost 150 pounds. John is a Delaware County Athlete. He has participated in Special Olympics Pennsylvania for many years as an athlete, and has volunteered on committees, such as the Fall Festival committee. After taking a few years off from competing during the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned this year to participate in bowling. John plans to participant in softball this spring.

It was last Summer that John decided he needed to change his habits and really started considering the impact his weight had on his health. At the time he weighed 415 pounds. On his own, knowing his family has a history of diabetes and heart disease, he decided to make diet changes and start increasing his exercise. He started by cutting back on portion sizes, he cut back on his intake of extra carbohydrates and increased his fruits and vegetables. He stopped eating late at night and stopped drinking soda and energy drinks and switched to water. John also started going to the gym three times a week. He works in photography where he walks around for many hours and believes those extra steps also helped him in his weight loss journey.

With all those healthy changes to his diet and lifestyle John now weighs 265 pounds. While his weight loss of 150 pounds is a great accomplishment, he knows he has more weight to lose. John’s goal is to continue to lose at least another 50 pounds.  

John is drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables and staying fit and active by exercising throughout the week. John is happier, healthier and more fit.

We are so proud of John for his accomplishments and commitment to his health. We hope other athletes are inspired by his story and work towards their own health and fitness goals. We encourage all athletes to talk with their coaches and caregivers about participating in Athlete Performance Training and visiting Healthy Athletes when they are available at events. We know improving your health and fitness not only improves your sports performance, but it can improve your life, and John is an example of that!

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:

🔴 Chartiers Valley School District

🟢 Ellwood City Area School District

🔴 Garnet Valley School District

🟢 Greencastle-Antrim High School

🔴 Harbor Creek School District

🟢 Pennridge School District

🔴 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.