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Community Impact

Special Olympics Pennsylvania Coach Receives Lifetime Achievement Award After Five Decades of Involvement

A Special Olympics coach shakes hands with athletes on the other side of a volleyball net.
Maryellen Brown (front right) congratulates Special Olympics athletes from an opposing volleyball game during the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, FL.

In the sixth grade, Maryellen Brown, standing at just 4’11", won the broad jump with a measurement of 6 feet and 1 inch. It was the first time she had the exhilarating feeling of doing something athletic. Fast-forward a few years, and she began to play field hockey, a new sport to those around her. She’s always had a knack for trying things many people don’t know much about, but it’s a trait that led her to Special Olympics.

With a start in Special Olympics shortly after the first Special Olympics International Summer Games in Chicago, Illinois in 1968, Brown saw potential in the athletes and wanted to help them achieve their goals. Not just in athletics - but also in life. Everything she’s done and continues to do was celebrated by receiving the Annette Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award. The award, given to coaches nominated by individuals in their lives, are presented by Special Olympics North America. It honors coaches for their part in enhancing the development of Special Olympics athletes.

In 1971, while in high school, Brown began her involvement with Special Olympics Pennsylvania. “I’ve always felt the special-needs students had a way to show their abilities, but not everybody thought that way,” Brown says. “But when they participated in track and field, it solidified in my mind that they had abilities others could recognize.”

And that was the moment she made the choice to study special education, getting certified in elementary education as well. Brown’s coaching journey didn’t start until she got a teaching job in the Susquenita School District in 1976.

“Maryellen Brown has been a leader and a mentor in not only Area M but in other programs as well,” Michelle Boon, the vice president of sports for Special Olympics Pennsylvania, says. “She is always willing to support other coaches.”

Throughout the years, Brown has helped countless volunteers become coaches. She is a clinician in five sports and has traveled across the state of Pennsylvania to conduct these trainings.

“I’m very humbled to receive this lifetime achievement award,” she says with a tone of excitement and gratitude in her voice. “I’m pretty sure I met Annette only once, and it was really only in passing so I really didn’t know her total background. But I did my research after I received the award; she’s a phenomenal woman and I don’t even come close to what she has contributed.”

A Special Olympics athlete and his coach stand next to each other on the sidelines. The athlete is hugging his coach and wearing a medal.
The connections Maryellen (left) makes with Special Olympics athletes she coaches go beyond the field of play.

But as Brown thinks about the time and effort people like Lynch have put in, she enjoys knowing that incredible things are being done for “exceptional athletes.”

Brown’s list of achievements is extensive. It includes volunteer of the year in 1993, Special Olympics Pennsylvania coach of the year in 1995 and an induction into the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 2013.

As a part of Special Olympics for 51 years, Brown is still active today. She hopes to see continued opportunities in both traditional Special Olympics and Special Olympics Unified Sports®, an initiative that allows those with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same team. She would love to see athletes, regardless of athletic ability, get more chances to compete at the USA Games and World Games, the organization’s biggest stages.

While Brown has a vision of what she hopes the movement of inclusion looks like, it also carries over into future coaches and the hope she has for them.

“Keep your heart and mind open to an adventure,” she says to future new coaches. “When you open the door to Special Olympics, you are opening a door to adventure. No practice, no competition, no involvement is ever the same on any given day. [New coaches] have to be willing to be a sponge and be willing to learn all they can about working with exceptional populations and coaching Special Olympics athletes. They have to be willing to let them, the athletes, show them their abilities and to help them, to use those abilities to overcome their challenges, to have a positive experience in life as well as in sport.”

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, Special Olympics Pennsylvania will receive a stipend to facilitate the professional development of the winner and the growth of the Coach Education Program within Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

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