Programs across the Special Olympics North America Region have started to select and announce the athletes, Unified partners and coaches who will participate in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando June 5-12.
Programs have found unique ways to surprise their delegations, including Zoom announcements, messages from celebrity supporters and Ambassadors, and live notifications on national media outlets.
Special Olympics Hawaii was one of many Programs that held a Zoom call to surprise athletes and coaches with the news that they would travel to Orlando. Special Olympics Alaska did the same for their entire delegation.
Other Programs notified athletes in person, sent notification letters to their home or announced their team through a pre-recorded selection show, like Special Olympics Kansas (the first delegation to announce in November 2020), Special Olympics Pennsylvania, Special Olympics Rhode Island and Special Olympics Utah.
Some Programs held signing ceremonies, similar to college signing day ceremonies for high school athletes, to officially announce that an athlete was part of the team heading to Orlando. Special Olympics Montana athlete Shawn McKahan officially signed his commitment to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games with family, friends, teachers and Sanders County Sheriff's officers in attendance.
Community members and partners were incorporated into many of the notifications. Another community celebration happened when Special Olympics Indiana held a ceremony at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers, with the help of staff from the Pacers franchise to announce their basketball team. For many Programs, the element of surprise added to the impact of their notifications. Special Olympics New York athlete Izzy Brinkerhoff thought she was going car shopping with her sister, only to be told she would compete in gymnastics at the USA Games. The surprise was posted on the Instagram channel of Good News Movement and has already had over 500,000 views.
Special Olympics Massachusetts surprised athlete Lumene Montissol with the good news that she’d compete in athletics during an interview with Robin Roberts for Good Morning America. Montissol was overcome with emotion as she expressed what a dream come true it was to be selected.
"It means my dream has already come true. I feel super grateful. I've been waiting for this dream for a long time," said Montissol after learning the good news.
Special Olympics Minnesota athlete Lucy Hauglind and Special Oympics Virginia athlete Jennifer Lin got the surprise of a lifetime when ESPN's Hannah Storm informed them over Zoom that they would compete at the USA Games in Orlando. ESPN, Global Broadcast Partner for Special Olympics, will once again cover the Games, showcasing the power of inclusion through sport both on and off the playing field.
Other Programs added star power to their announcements thanks to support from Special Olympics USA Games Ambassadors, Special Olympics Champion Ambassadors and sponsors. With a guest appearance by Matthew McConaughey, Special Olympics Texas athletes learned that they were attending USA Games via a video announcement. Special Olympics Louisiana had the help of actor Eric Stonestreet in notifying one of their athletes, Rebecca Hulse. Athletes from Washington learned they would travel to Orlando when actress Tiffany Haddish crashed their Zoom meeting with the good news. Special Olympics New York athlete Aziza Speight learned that she would compete in Orlando from singer and Special Olympics Champion Ambassador Montell Jordan.
The moment had a profound impact on Jordan. "Her joy and excitement poured from my screen ... and when she was familiar with my music, my heart connected with her and her parents! Aziza was my first announcement, but she won't be my last!"
Special Olympics Florida, the Program that will have the largest delegation, were also a big part of the fun! USA Games ambassador Ellen DeGeneres surprised Michelle Canazaro with the news that she would represent the host Program. The Special Olympics Florida Unified soccer team was surprised with the news that they would compete in their fourth USA Games during the USA Games One Year Out media event. Jersey Mike’s Subs, 2022 USA Games Presenting Partner, helped surprise multiple athletes at stores in Jacksonville, Miami and Orlando. And Coca-Cola, Special Olympics Founding Partner and USA Games Platinum Partner, brought a Coca-Cola truck to surprise the Unified volleyball team with their selection.
Programs around the North America Region have had fun creating different ways to notify their athletes and many are still set to do so in the coming weeks and months. Follow all of the selections and lead-up to the USA Games on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and use hashtag #ShineAsOne to cheer on everyone who will be involved in this event.