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

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!

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.

Fall Fest Stories: Tamba Mbriwa

In a 7v7 gold medal soccer match at last weekend’s Fall Festival at Villanova University, Berks County and Delaware County were locked in an instant classic. Berks County struck first before Delaware leveled the score at 1-1 on a goal by Eric Augustine. After DelCo took the lead in the second half thanks to Webster Quiah, Berks scored the late equalizer to send the game into extra time.

In the second extra period, in a match that seemed destined for penalty kicks, Tamba Mbriwa made an inspired run through the attacking end. Mbriwa – a first-year player for DelCo after moving from Montgomery County – weaved into the box and chipped a shot that was destined for the goal, but a Berks player threw his hands up to deflect the ball. The referee immediately awarded the Wildcats a penalty kick. With a gold medal on the line, the crowd chanting his name, Mbriwa calmly stepped to the spot, took a deep breath and delivered the kick of his life. Final: 3-2 Wildcats. Gold medal secured.

Hear from Tamba about the match of the weekend, in his own words:

“Honestly, it was a rough game. It was rainy, it was cloudy, but we all came out, we all fought as a team and we came out with the win. I’m blessed to have my family, my teammates. Without my coaches, we wouldn’t be here today. …

Going through my head, honestly, I was like ‘I know what’s happening. I know what happened.’ I fell down and I got up and the referee said, ‘penalty kick.’ And I’m just thinking to myself, ‘wow!’ My coach said ‘take it,’ so I took it and I shot it in. My mind was energized and I was tired. I was a little bit [nervous], but I got it done. My teammates were all behind me 100 percent and I got it done for them and my coaches. …

The training was tough. We come to practice every day, we worked hard on goalie skills, training skills, everything. Our coach, he works our butts off every practice. We came out today and we had fans watching us. Honestly, I’m blessed. It’s a great season and we can’t wait until next year. …

My favorite memory is I get to hang out with the college students and I get to meet new people. And these people around me are pretty cool.”