Every year, the week before the Super Bowl features the one of the largest gatherings of media in the United States. Consumer sports, entertainment, lifestyle and business broadcast outlets set up to cover the news and festivities before the Big Game on Sunday.
For 2020, Special Olympics showed up bigger and louder than we ever have before to share our message with hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Our attendance was truly unified as Special Olympics athlete spokespersons from Florida and Ohio joined an international group of celebrity supporters to discuss inclusive sports, health, and education initiatives in interviews that have and will continue to be shared on 100 media outlets across the world.
To kick off the week, Special Olympics ambassadors and supporters descended on Felix Varela Senior High School, a Special Olympics Unified Champion School®, right outside of Miami, Florida. Special Olympics U.S. Youth Ambassador, Tajha Ilerant and Special Olympics supporter, Dalton Risner, of the Denver Broncos, joined Special Olympics Global Ambassador, Erika Ender on a tour where they learned all about the school’s inclusive activities that embody the three components of a Unified Champion School: Unified Sports, Whole School Engagement and Inclusive Youth Leadership.
The tour, led by senior and school ambassador Sebastian Cespedes, a Special Olympics Florida athlete, took ambassadors and supporters through the school’s Unified dentistry program, baking class, and finally to a Unified soccer scrimmage. Dalton and Tajha faced off head-to-head as coaches of the opposing teams in a friendly match where Erika and fans in the stands cheered on their classmates. Ambassadors, students, and staff also gathered to sign the Spread the Word: Inclusion pledge—solidifying everyone’s commitment to inclusion ahead of Spread the Word Day, which will be celebrated 4 March this year.
Another highlight was a Unified flag football game that took place at the NFL Experience. It gave Special Olympics Florida athletes the chance to learn from and play with current NFL players. During halftime, the NFL surprised athlete, Logan Alvarez, with two tickets to the Super Bowl for his outstanding work starting a Unified club at his local high school, Miami Southridge Senior High School, which will receive their Unified Champion Schools National Banner during a recognition ceremony supported by ESPN later in the month. The Super Bowl participating teams, Kansas City and San Francisco, also contributed to the fun with cheerleaders and mascots from each team. ESPN SportsCenter host, Steve Levy served as the honorary emcee of the game introducing the teams and interviewing each side after the contest.
During the week, athletes had the opportunity to interact with additional celebrities Lizzo, Saquon Barkley, Dan Marino, Busy Phillips, Emmitt Smith and Kyle and Chris Long.
Learn more about the athletes who represented Special Olympics throughout the week below.
- Michelle Canazaro (Special Olympics Florida) is a multi-sport athlete competing in swimming, paddle boarding, bowling, softball, soccer, basketball and snowshoeing, which included representing the US during the Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017!
- Sebastian Cespedes (Special Olympics Florida) is known as the “politician” to his friends and family members for his exceptional communication abilities and strong value set. He also plays on his high school’s Unified Sports teams, including flag football, basketball, soccer and golf for the past four years.
- Daniel Fundora (Special Olympics Florida) has been involved with Special Olympics for eighteen years, participating in basketball, soccer, softball, flag football, bowling, golf and karate. He was named Florida Athlete of the Year and is a Health Messenger and a Best Buddies Ambassador. Daniel is also a personal trainer at the JCC in Miami.
- Tajha Ilerant (Special Olympics Florida) is a recent graduate of Immokalee High School, a Special Olympics Florida Global Messenger, and one of twelve Special Olympics US Youth Ambassadors.
- Antrone “Juice” Williams (Special Olympics Ohio) plays Unified flag football and basketball, and also serves on multiple Athlete Input Councils. A stroke survivor, Juice credits Special Olympics with saving his life and giving him purpose after the stroke.
We’d like to offer a very special thank you to our Global Ambassadors Big Show (WWE pro wrestler) and Erika Ender (Grammy winning singer/songwriter and actress) as well as Special Olympics supporter, Dalton Risner, for continuing to lend their voices to help spread the message of inclusion.
We also like to thank our celebrity supporters during this very special and fun event including:
- Baker Mayfield is an NFL quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and supporter of Special Olympics Ohio.
- Dhani Jones is a former NFL linebacker, a television personality and entrepreneur.
- Mack Hollins is an NFL receiver for the Miami Dolphins.
- Merril Hoge is a former NFL running back and current head coach for Your Call Football.