Special Olympics director says community needs to become more involved

With his mom Cyndi Thornton at his side, Joshua Thornton, of Jacksonville, makes his way through a basketball dribbling course Saturday during a basketball skills competition for Special Olympians at Quincy University. | H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt
Posted: Feb. 7, 2015 9:12 pm Updated: Feb. 22, 2015 1:15 am

Staff Writer | 217-221-3377 | @StevieDirtWHIG

QUINCY -- Heather Davis is genuinely excited.

Davis, who is the area director for Special Olympics Illinois, is equally concerned.

The organization hosted a basketball skills competition Saturday at Quincy University, which showcased some of the region's Special Olympians who will be trying to advance to state competition in Bloomington in March.

Davis' concerns, however, go beyond such competitions.

The first-year director says interest in and support of the cause needs to improve in this area, which caters to athletes in Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, Cass, Greene, Schuyler and Scott counties.

"We are at a point where the community needs to get behind us or ... (Special Olympics) might just fade away," Davis said.

Davis said a limited budget is always a problem and more sponsorship funding is a must. That, coupled with a growing shortage of volunteers, is casting a cloud over the long-term future of Special Olympics in West-Central Illinois.

"Special Olympics opens all sorts of horizons for these athletes, but not only is the budget limited, many of the volunteers are reaching the age when they will soon be needing to step away," Davis said.

Davis is the only full-time employee of at the area office, which recently moved to 2306 N. 12th, which is the new home of Qtown Crossfit.

Sam Dancer is one of the owners of Qtown Crossfit, which has come on board in support of Special Olympics. Davis hopes more businesses, organizations and individuals will follow.

"It's exciting and it fits our vision of what we want to do here," said Dancer, who helps Special Olympians with their training regimens. "We don't care who you are, we'll be with you every step of the way."

Dancer said Special Olympians fall into the category of "adaptive athletes," or those with disabilities. He said it does not matter whether a disability is mental or physical, the goal is to train athletes to get the most out of their abilities.

"There is a passion here to see everyone succeed," Dancer said.

Other backers of the local Special Olympics effort include Farm and Home Supply, Davis and Associates, Gardner Denver, Y-101/KICK-FM radio, Refreshment Services Pepsi, Knapheide, Quincy Medical Group, Blessing Hospital, Krazy Cakes, J.W. Gardner Foundation, Breakfast Optimist Club, Dot Foods, General Mills, Wells Fargo and Kiwanis Club.

Davis said Special Olympic events are built around Olympic-style sports and the athletes put in long hours of training.

"May 3 is our big Spring Games at Flinn Stadium, and the athletes will train six to eight weeks beforehand," Davis said. "For events like that, just take 30 minutes of your time and come out and cheer them on. The athletes are so grateful."

Davis said Saturday's event at Pepsi Arena "will be like the NBA playoffs" for the Special Olympic athletes taking part. She said "it means the world" for them to have the skills competition on the same floor where the QU Hawks play.

"Coach Marty Bell and QU have been so good to us," Davis said. "They've had the athletes in and had their pictures taken with the players. That means so much."

Danielle McVey, a senior at Quincy University, is a volunteer with the area Special Olympics office. She hopes to work one day with the mentally challenged.

"It's an area I have always been interested in, and seeing the athletes do what they do it makes it easy to want to help," she said.

Davis is hoping more community members begin to feel the same way.


Director: Heather Davis.

Athletes served: 254.

Sports offered: 15.

Budget: $87,532.

Counties: Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, Cass, Schuyler, Scott, Greene.