By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Josh Znosko would love nothing more than to see people get involved with Special Olympics.
An eighth-grader at Quincy Junior High School, Znosko wants to see more athletes competing and more people volunteering to coach. He wants the best for a program that has meant so much to him the last three years.
"It's like family," the 13-year-old said of Special Olympics.
He has made it his mission to get the word out. He took special classes last year to become a Global Messenger for Special Olympics, and has participated in several meet-and-greet events at various locations to spread the word.
He recently gave a speech to a group at First Bankers Trust Services in Quincy. They were so moved by Znosko's speech that they are having an in-house fundraiser today to benefit the local Special Olympics program.
Znosko and his mother, Jill Wilson, attended workshops in Bloomington so he could become a voice for the Special Olympics movement. Wilson learned how to write speeches, while Znosko learned skills on how deliver them.
"I was nervous but excited," Znokso said of getting up in front of a group for the first time at the training. "They wanted us to write a speech and present it. It was a really small group, but I was excited because I knew this would be a major step in my experience with Special Olympics. I don't get up and talk in front of groups that often."
Znosko loves sports. He hasn't let the fact that he has cerebral palsy stop him from playing his favorite games. When he was younger, he played T-Ball, soccer and other games. Wilson said that Znosko had to look for another avenue once those sports got too competitive as he got older.
"That's where Special Olympics was a huge self esteem booster for him and a great opportunity to still be an athlete and enjoy sports," she said.
Znosko had never heard of Special Olympics until he was 10 years old. He was given a pamphlet about Special Olympics after a visit to Quincy Medical Group. Once he got involved with the program, he was hooked.
"I like all of (the sports) because everything is year-around," he said. "It keeps me active."
Znosko participates in basketball, individual soccer skills, softball skills, bocce ball, bowling and track and field during the Special Olympics games. Znosko says he is a huge sports fan, counting the Chicago Bears and Chicago Bulls among his favorite teams.
While he likes participating in Special Olympics, Znosko says it's sometimes hard to find places to practice. He wants to find the group more places to practice. The First Bankers Trust fundraiser will help generate money for uniforms for Znosko and his team members.
Talks like the one he gave at First Bankers are just the start. He would love to become a "face" for Special Olympics. Global messengers are sent to various places around the United States and around the world to talk about the program.
"Once I build up my speaking enough, the state headquarters will actually send me places and have me speak for them," Znosko. "They will have me go to conferences and spread the news about Special Olympics."
Wilson said she has seen a lot of growth from Znosko during his tenure as a Global Messenger.
"He was already social, but he's meeting so many new people," she said. "I feel like he is making a wonderful impression on the community. People like him right away."
Znosko would like to see Special Olympics groups start in other areas. He has spoken to people in Carthage about starting a Special Olympics group there. He wants everyone to know the joy of being involved in Special Olympics.
"I love hanging out with my teammates and traveling with them," he said.