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Community Impact

2020 Special Olympics North America Outstanding Coaches Announced

March, 9th-- Special Olympics North America is honored to announce the 2020 Special Olympics North America Outstanding Coach award recipients. Jack Nagle from Special Olympics Northern California has been named the 2020 Outstanding Coach and Jennifer LaCapra from Special Olympics Connecticut has been named the 2020 Outstanding Unified Champion Schools® Coach. Coach Nagle of Oakland, California, has been coaching Special Olympics for the last 30 years, having coached both basketball and soccer. LaCapra, of Woodbury, Connecticut, is a wellness teacher and coach of the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program at Oxford High School (in Oxford, CT). This is the first time in the history of the award that two recipients were selected.

Coach Nagle was notified of the honor during a virtual conference call with his team over Zoom. Colleagues, athletes and parents all celebrated the announcement and a few shared the impact Coach Nagle has had on their lives.

"I accepted the award on behalf of team Oakland because we are a team; we do everything together. My success, your success is all of our success and it's so wonderful to be recognized mostly because I think team Oakland deserves the recognition. They’re just one of the most incredible groups of people that I have ever known."
Coach Jack Nagle

Coach LaCapra was surprised with the award during a visit to her Unified PE class by representatives from Special Olympics North America, Special Olympics Connecticut, and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. She was surrounded by a cheering assembly of students, faculty, and her family.

Coach Jennifer LaCapra is standing with her students after receiving the SONA outstanding coach involved with Unified Champion Schools.
Coach LaCapra (center, kneeling) poses with her students after receiving the SONA Outstanding Coach award.

"Unified Sports is my passion. I just love what it brings to the entire school community. Seeing the kids working together, the relationships that form, whether it's on the court or in the hallways. It's honestly the best thing that I've been a part of as a coach, seeing the bonds that form between teammates," LaCapra said upon learning of the honor.

Coach Nagle’s patience and keen attention to each athlete’s unique needs helps set them up for success beyond Special Olympics. His impact can be seen in students excelling in school and traveling to compete in their sport worldwide, as well as in his fellow coaches who look to him as an example. Nagle emphasizes health and wellness both on and off the field of play. His commitment to a healthy lifestyle led his team to be the first to pilot a six-week Fit 5 Challenge for Special Olympics Northern California.

Coach Jack Nagle and his basketball team standing with gold medals.
Coach Nagle with his basketball team (photo taken pre-March 2020).

Coach LaCapra established the Unified Sports program at Oxford High School and has coached numerous sports including Unified basketball, volleyball, track and field and kickball, as well as Unified PE classes for more than nine years. In 2019, she helped prepare two students to travel to Abu Dhabi for the Global Youth Summit at the World Games. She instills valuable leadership skills in all her students that will translate beyond competition.

The Special Olympics North America Outstanding Coach award is a recognition awarded annually since the late 1980's to a Special Olympics coach who has made a significant impact and demonstrated exceptional commitment to their Special Olympics Program, the athletes and the movement. Nominations in the additional category of Unified Champion Schools Coach were accepted for the first time in 2020. An impressive field of 20 coaches were submitted from the 147,000 coaches who volunteer their time across North America, making the job of the nine-person selection committee a tough one.

Special Olympics was pleased to include Abbey Fuster as a Gallagher representative on the selection committee for the award. Fuster, a former collegiate star soccer player shared her excitement after the experience. "It was an honor to participate in this effort, and it was clear that what Special Olympics is doing is making a real impact as evidenced by the incredibly moving coaching applicant stories. I look forward to expanding our partnership to continue the tremendous impact coaches are making in the lives of Special Olympics athletes and local communities."

Regional President and Managing Director Tony Wyllie said, "Coaches are the core for delivering our mission of year-round sports training and athletic competition. The passion and dedication from this vital group of volunteers has never been more important than in 2020 when all in-person engagements were impacted. Coach Nagle and Coach LaCapra rose to the challenge and found creative ways to keep their athletes active, fit and engaged, and are incredibly deserving of this esteemed honor."

Special Olympics is proud to partner with Gallagher, Official Sponsor of Special Olympics International Sport and Coach Programming. Gallagher’s support of the Special Olympics movement stems from a shared commitment to inclusion. Special Olympics and Gallagher are empowering athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to face their future with confidence—on and off the playing field—through quality coaching and sports training experiences.

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