2016 awards announced by Special Olympics North Carolina

Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) recently presented seven 2016 state-level awards honoring outstanding individuals, companies and organizations that support Special Olympics in North Carolina, according to Keith L. Fishburne, president/CEO of Special Olympics North Carolina.

The following individuals and companies received recognition  for their commitment and dedication to Special Olympics during the past year:

  • Athlete of the Year: Marchello Smith, Wake County
  • Coach of the Year: Billie Fitzsimons, New Hanover County
  • Family of the Year: The Whisenant Family, New Hanover County
  • Volunteer of the Year: Elizabeth Knightly, Mecklenburg County
  • Coordinator of the Year: Robert Brown, Jr. and Michelle Bumgarner, Caldwell County
  • Outstanding Corporation (less than 100 employees): Crossfit Catawba Valley, Catawba County
  • Organization of the Year: Charlotte Soccer Academy, Mecklenburg County

The 2016 SONC Athlete of the Award was presented to Marchello Smith of Raleigh. He competes in basketball, soccer and softball, as well as participating in campus recreation Unified Sports at NC State University.  Unified Sports is a program where people with and without intellectual disabilities compete on the same team for social inclusion through shared sports experiences. His athletic talent is impressive but more important is the way he represents Special Olympics wherever he goes. Smith makes those around him better by being a role model of good sportsmanship. He assists coaches at practice and volunteers for Special Olympics whenever possible. Smith represented North Carolina at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey, helping his soccer team complete the tournament undefeated and bringing home the gold medal. Smith also volunteers his time with the Salvation Army at Christmas as a bell ringer.  

The 2016 SONC Coach of the Year Award was presented to Billie Fitzsimons of Wilmington. She has coached Special Olympics New Hanover County athletes for almost a decade.  She strives to bring the best out of every tennis athlete and is dedicated to helping her team reach their goals.  During her time as a coach in New Hanover, many of Fitzsimons’s athletes have improved their tennis skills, thanks to her patience, passion and high degree of technical knowledge.  She coaches year-round for Special Olympics as well as teaching tennis classes for all ages and competing in tournaments herself.  Fitzsimons has become an important figure in the lives of all New Hanover County tennis athletes and her commitment increases each year.  

The 2016 SONC Family of the Year Award was presented to Danny and Anita Whisenant Family of Wilmington. The couple became involved in Special Olympics thanks to their daughter, Katherine, who has competed since she was eight-years-old. The Whisenants are involved in the local program year-round as coaches, volunteers, committee members and fundraisers. They are instrumental in the planning and running of New Hanover County’s Polar Plunge, as well as local competitions.  They serve as cheerleading, bocce and basketball coaches throughout the year and attend speaking engagements and Law Enforcement Torch Run events benefitting Special Olympics North Carolina.  Danny and Anita Whisenant are a huge part of the Special Olympics movement in New Hanover County as they encourage athletes, including their daughter, to become active members of their community.

The 2016 SONC Volunteer of the Year award was presented to Elizabeth Knightly of Charlotte. Knightly has volunteered with Special Olympics for well over a decade and been an active member of the Special Olympics Mecklenburg County steering committee since 2009.  In her role as Volunteer Coordinator for Mecklenburg County, she recruits volunteers for 26 individual competitions taking place throughout the year and manages over 1,000 volunteers.   She has enhanced the volunteer experience and maintained an exceptionally high volunteer retention rate, all while remaining focused on the athlete experience.  In 2015, Knightly was selected to participate in the Wells Fargo Volunteer Leave Program, a highly competitive program that loans Wells Fargo employees out to non-profits for six week periods. During her time in the program, Knightly focused on expanding Unified Champion Schools programming in Mecklenburg County, increasing the number of active schools by over 50%, recruiting and training college students to provide support to Unified Champion Schools and planning a Youth and Educator Summit. 

The 2016 SONC Organization of the Year award was presented to the Charlotte Soccer Academy of Charlotte. For the past 12 years, the Charlotte Soccer Academy, under the leadership of Brad Wylde, has provided high quality soccer programming to Special Olympics athletes in Mecklenburg County. Professional coaches assist Special Olympics athletes with training and attend local competitions as officials.  Charlotte Soccer Academy’s youth soccer players participate in quality, inclusive Unified Sports opportunities at Camp SOAR, a week-long sport-oriented summer day camp for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Volunteers from the organization bring a high level of enthusiasm, sports knowledge, and excitement to Mecklenburg County’s annual soccer tournament which features teams from 16 schools.  

The 2016 SONC Corporation of the Year award with less than 100 employees was presented to CrossFit Catawba Valley of Catawba County. The owners of CrossFit Catawba Valley organized the first-ever Row Raiser for Special Olympics Catawba County in August 2016, and raised more than $7,000. Employees from the gym will also take on key volunteer roles at Catawba County’s 2017 Spring Games and are excited to become involved in health programming opportunities for local athletes.

Robert Brown, Jr. and Michelle Bumgarner of Caldwell County were named the 20016 Local Program Coordinators of the Year for their leadership as local program co-coordinators for Special Olympics in Caldwell County.  As part of their leadership efforts for Special Olympics in Caldwell County, Brown and Bumgarner have placed a strong emphasis on developing committees of volunteers focused on fundraising events, volunteer management, sports and coaching. In collaborating through teamwork, the pair has established a stable foundation for Special Olympics Caldwell County.

About Special Olympics North Carolina

Special Olympics North Carolina offers year-round sports training and competition for nearly 40,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. These athletes inspire greatness through their success and provide motivation to the thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide.  SONC offers Olympic-type competition in 19 sports on local and state levels as well as health and wellness initiatives to improve the health status and increase access to community health resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Youth become agents of change through Unified Champion Schools, an education and sports based program created by Special Olympics to build an inclusive environment among youth with and without intellectual disabilities as well as empower them to become youth leaders and create change in their community. Visit Special Olympics North Carolina at Engage with us on;, and

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