Allison Wonch has always loved sports. She grew up with many siblings in a house where the focus was sports, particularly basketball. “I kept busy playing sports growing up, and I translated that into working with youth and sports camps. That led me to adapted physical education, which led me to Special Olympics,” Wonch says.
The 39-year-old’s journey mimics many others’ who find their way to Special Olympics. One experience—and they are hooked. Wonch just happened to take her experience to the next level. In April 2022, the six-year Special Olympics Michigan coach earned the Unified Champion Schools Outstanding Coach award. She was nominated for coaching bocce. The award, given by Special Olympics North America, honors coaches for their impact on Special Olympics athletes.
“Allison has been a very strong coach for our program over the last year,” says Nick Caudle, Sr. Manager of Sports & Training for Special Olympics Michigan. “Even during a difficult year filled with starts and stops due to COVID, Allison was able to keep her athletes moving and involved with Special Olympics activities throughout the entire year.”
Despite restrictions that were in place due to COVID-19, Wonch continued to coach snowshoeing, bocce and bowling. She held in-person practices, and her teams competed in the State Finals in all three sports. When COVID kept people home, she pushed for virtual competitions. Her student-athletes at Meadowview School, a Unified Champion School that promotes social inclusion through activities for athletes with and without intellectual disabilities, in Charlotte, Michigan, attended the virtual Winter, Summer and Fall Games events. “During these events Allison routinely drove to athletes’ homes who were unable to attend school in order to help them get their qualifying and event scores,” Caudle says.
The love Wonch has for her athletes is apparent. She says her favorite part of the movement is interacting with the athletes, and she always tries to think of creative ways to teach skills and assess her students’ skills. “I really love the opportunity to help them find ways to be successful, and I really love watching them get to shine in their time with each other and in competitions,” Wonch says.
During practices, the group begins with a walk and talk, sharing how their day has been or what’s on their minds. Both at the beginning of practice and before they go their separate ways, the team tells each other that they love one another. It’s a reminder that while Wonch is a coach, friendships and special connections always come first.
While having that friend-coach relationship, Wonch knows there are times when the switch flips and she must be the coach. “It comes with the boundaries that they learn when they are getting to know you and they’ve gotten to know me well enough that they know what to expect,” says Wonch.
In addition to her coaching responsibilities, Wonch helps in other areas too. She volunteers at various local events and helps with the local management team. “Even if I’m not involved as a coach, I still think the Special Olympics community and what that means for our local communities and our school communities is really important. I want my students to have opportunity,” Wonch says.
Moving forward Wonch wants to encourage people to keep showing up for each other. For her part, she plans to be there for her athletes and go on many more walk and talks.
Special Olympics is proud to partner with Gallagher, Official Sponsor of Special Olympics International Sport and Coach Programming. 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. Thanks to Gallagher’s support, a $1500 stipend has been awarded to Special Olympics Michigan to facilitate the professional development of the winner and the growth of the Coach Education Program within Special Olympics Michigan.