Special Olympics North America Announces 2013 Coaches of the Year!


2013 Coaches of the Year

Special Olympics North America is honored to announce the selection of Jennifer Walsh of Massachusetts and Rob Wagner of Iowa as the Special Olympics North America 2013 Coaches of the Year!

The Coach of the Year Award was established in the late 1980’s and is given annually to an active, certified Special Olympics coach who has met several criteria, particularly their having made a significant and demonstrable impact on local Special Olympics Programs and their communities. 

There are more than 120,000 coaches within SONA, providing instruction and competition in more than 32 sports. The impressive scope and contributions of all those coaches, puts the magnitude of this award into perspective.

"Their commitment should inspire us all"

“Jennifer and Rob embody Special Olympics’ commitment to providing every athlete with the quality coaching they deserve,” said Bob Gobrecht, President, Special Olympics North America, adding “what they accomplish through coaching is truly exemplary – they represents the best of the best amongst hundreds of thousands of excellent volunteer coaches. Their commitment to, and deep compassion for, the athletes of Special Olympics should inspire us all to do more and reach further.”

Annette K. Lynch, Senior Manager, Coaching Excellence and Sport Education, said of Rob and Jen, “As you can see, both Jennifer and Rob have greatly contributed to the lives of athletes, parents and providers in their respective communities, states, the nation and the region. We are deeply grateful for their hard work, applaud their high standards of excellence, deeply appreciate the impact they have had and continue to have and admire their generosity of heart.”

The Finalists

The 2013 Coach of the Year finalists represent Special Olympics North America’s most exemplary coaches - true leaders and dedicated volunteers who serve as role models to other coaches, inside and outside of Special Olympics. This is the first time in the history of the award that two winners were named.

Finalists include: Mike Beeson, NC; Darlene Dietrich, IN; Kevin Enright, GA; Laura Miller, KY; Tom Nolan, NY; Tracey Robertson, Canada; Sylvia Jiggetts-Seaborne, VA; Kevin Szydel, WI; J’Nette Thorne, TX; Michael Wakeford, AZ.

Meet Rob Wagner of Iowa

“Rob Wagner is dedicated to Special Olympics Iowa and our athletes,” said SOIA President and CEO Hal Pittman. “He embraces all aspects of Special Olympics, and encourages every athlete to reach their full potential while creating and celebrating the spirit of being part of a team. We are extraordinarily pleased that Rob’s dedication to Special Olympics Iowa athletes has been recognized at the highest levels of sport. He is the epitome of what a great Special Olympics coach should be.”

Wagner is an active sports enthusiast, and his background as a competitive runner and professional ski instructor has had a positive impact on Special Olympics Iowa athletes and athletes across the U.S. Among his many outstanding accomplishments, Wagner has increased the number of athletes in the Cedar Rapids Parks & Recreation Department Special Olympics program from 400 to 518 athletes. He has established a local Athlete Leadership Program; served as an advocate for inclusion and community involvement; introduced more competitions and weekly trainings, and established Iowa’s flag football program based on athlete interest.

Wagner has tailored programs for athletes of all levels, and provided leadership on the coaches’ advisory and training committees. He values coaching education, and has served in major coaching leadership roles including Iowa’s head softball coach at each of the three Special Olympics USA Games, as a softball coach during the 1999 Special Olympics World Games, and as an alpine ski coach at the 2005 World Games.

Wagner mentors university students, and several have continued as volunteers and hold full-time positions with Special Olympics. Furthermore, he has mentored athletes and coaches throughout the state so that they, too, could reach their maximum potential. After the devastating flood of 2008, Wagner personally saw to it that athletes had facilities to continue training and raised funds to purchase new equipment so that athletes had the equipment they needed to compete.

Meet Jennifer Walsh of Massachusetts

The award was presented to Walsh, as a surprise, during her Milford program’s Monday evening basketball practice at Stacy Middle School in Milford, with Special Olympics Massachusetts athletes and staff in attendance (pictured, far left). 

Jennifer Walsh impacts the Special Olympics movement by providing year-round training; growing her local Special Olympics program to 160 athletes; providing extensive Athlete Leadership Programs; and introducing more competitions and training in response to athlete interest. She has created individual training and competition regimens for athletes of all ability levels, which challenge them, build self-esteem, and support each athlete.

Walsh also mentors new coaches and successfully coordinates schools and the community, including starting a summer program for students with special needs in the elementary and high schools. She has also coordinated numerous fundraisers for Special Olympics; started a work program in the community; developed partnerships in the community; served on Special Olympics Massachusetts’ training committee; and has been a strong advocate for coaching excellence and ongoing coaching education within Special Olympics.

Walsh is known for bringing people together - volunteers, coaches, partners, sponsors, staff and athletes - to truly make the Special Olympics experience the best it can be for all. Walsh is described as “the consummate teacher’s teacher and coach’s coach who inspires, motivates, delegates and positively recognizes all with whom she works.”

“Special Olympics Massachusetts thrives in communities across the state because of the tireless efforts, love, compassion and leadership of coaches like Jen,” said Mary Beth McMahon, President and CEO, Special Olympics Massachusetts. “She was inducted into our Hall of Fame 2006 and we couldn’t be prouder now that she’s been recognized nationally. Whatever the accolade, the true indicator of her commitment can be seen in the many lives she’s helped shape.”