Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) presented eight 2021 state-level awards honoring outstanding individuals who support Special Olympics in North Carolina, according to Keith L. Fishburne, President/CEO of Special Olympics North Carolina.
- Athlete of the Year: Shanequa Hill, Brunswick County
- Frank Starling Coach of the Year: David Bentley, Mecklenburg County
- Family of the Year: Vernon Family, Guilford/Greensboro
- Coordinator of the Year: Holly Watt, Harnett County
- Billy Quick Leadership Award: Mason Sledge, Cabarrus County
- Volunteer of the Year: Mike Reese, Wake County
- Jim Long Commitment to Excellence: Roy Williams, Orange County
- Outstanding Organization: Olde Beau Women’s Golf Association, Alleghany County
The 2021 SONC Athlete of the Year Award was presented to Shanequa Hill of Brunswick County. Since joining SONC as an athlete in 2019, Hill has been an enthusiastic participant in bocce, tennis, volleyball and Partner Up Power Up, a program created by SONC to provide at-home fitness programming for athletes across the state as a result of the pandemic. A significant component of Partner Up Power Up encourages a healthy diet, a principle that Hill has integrated into her daily life. Off the field of play, Hill attends Brunswick Community College in Bolivia, NC, where she is also employed. Hill is recognized for her enthusiasm, sense of sportsmanship and her dedication to fair competition.
The 2021 SONC Frank Starling Coach of the Year Award was presented to David Bentley of Mecklenburg County. A volunteer coach with Mecklenburg County since 2016, Bentley has coached both basketball and tennis. Bentley is diligent in his planning for practices, spending extra time with each athlete to better his or her technique. In the fall of 2020, Bentley began offering weekly Zoom sessions with his team, following exercises and activities provided through SONC’s Partner Up Power Up program. He has continued to lead these sessions through 2021, regularly engaging athletes in Special Olympics programming. Bentley leads by example and encourages athletes to rise to the challenge and do their best.
The 2021 SONC Family of the Year Award was presented to the Vernon Family of Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro. Athlete, Laura, has been active in the Special Olympics movement since she was 2 years old. After relocating from Virginia to Greensboro, NC, three years ago, Laura’s parents, Teena and Keith, began immediately searching for options to get involved with Special Olympics locally. Laura competes in basketball, maintaining a training regimen through Partner Up Power Up. Teena and Keith are active supporters of her involvement in Special Olympics, cheering Laura on in all of her endeavors, including carrying the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) for Special Olympics Flame of Hope in her local Spring Games when they were living in Radford, VA. The Vernon family is thankful for the opportunity to continue making those memories through Partner Up Power Up.
The 2021 SONC Coordinator of the Year Award was presented to Holly Watt of Harnett County. In the past five years serving as local program coordinator and volunteer coach, Watt has added the following sport opportunities for Special Olympics Harnett County athletes: cheerleading, tennis, softball skills, soccer skills and golf. She has also continued to support bocce, basketball, bowling and swimming. Watt’s daughter, Kelly Dixon, competes as a Special Olympics Harnett County athlete and is also a certified Special Olympics coach. Watt has been supportive of the Partner Up Power Up program this past year, increasing her team of 16 participants involved in the fall 2020 session to 380 participants in the spring 2021 session including students from 15 schools across Harnett County.
The 2021 Billy Quick Leadership Award was presented to Mason Sledge of Cabarrus County. For two years, Sledge has competed and trained in basketball, bowling and flag football with Special Olympics Cabarrus County. A Global Messenger for SONC, Sledge is a trained spokesperson for Special Olympics in recruiting potential athletes, volunteers and sponsors through public presentations. In addition to his involvement with Special Olympics, he is a father to his 4-year-old son and legal guardian to his 17-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew.
The 2021 SONC Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Mike Reese of Wake County. Reese is an active member of SONC’s volunteer team, serving as the transportation director for the SONC Summer Games, a role he has also assumed at SONC’s Fall Tournament and Equestrian Tournament. Reese began volunteering with the SONC Summer Games following his volunteer experience at the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in the Triangle. Most recently, he has served on the Games Management Team for the 2021 district invitationals and for state-level fundraiser, Over The Edge. He is dedicated to the athletes and to creating a safe environment for everyone at events. Reese has recruited his son to get involved as a volunteer for SONC, continuing his legacy to the next generation.
The 2021 SONC Jim Long Commitment to Excellence Award was presented to Roy Williams of Orange County. SONC partnered with Coach Roy Williams during his tenure as head coach of the men’s basketball program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More than 1,500 Special Olympics athletes from across the state have participated in at least 15 clinics hosted by the men’s basketball program. Through this partnership, $130,000 has also been contributed to SONC by UNC-Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball. During his career as a coach, Williams introduced Special Olympics and the nature of working with people with intellectual disabilities to countless numbers of college students at UNC-Chapel Hill as well as the University of Kansas.
The 2021 SONC Outstanding Organization Award was presented to Olde Beau Women’s Golf Association (OBWGA) of Alleghany County. OBWGA is a dedicated community sponsor of Special Olympics Alleghany County. In addition to providing financial support each year through donations and contributions collected at the annual women’s golf tournament in August, OBWGA has helped to build a new golf program for Special Olympics Alleghany athletes. OBWGA and the Olde Beau Golf Club & Resort have regularly provided individual golf lessons to eight local athletes. The Olde Beau Golf Club & Resort opened their course in May of 2021 to Special Olympics athletes and also hosted the first stop on SONC’s Fall 2021 Golf Tour.
About Special Olympics North Carolina
Since 1968, the organization has used the transformative power of sports to improve the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Nearly 40,000 athletes in North Carolina inspire thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide. SONC offers year-round training and competition in 20 Olympic-type 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 www.specialolympicsnc.com. Engage with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.