Two Metro East residents received top honors from the Special Olympics Illinois at the 2016 Summer Games held June 10-12 at Illinois State University in Normal.
Jennifer Hitt of Edwardsville was named the 2016 Special Olympics Illinois’ Outstanding Coach of the Year Award.
Charles Dunn of Belleville has been named the 2016 Special Olympics Illinois’ Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award.
The two award winners will be honored at a reception June 10 before the Summer Games Opening Ceremony.
The award recognizes the coach who best demonstrates the true ideals of the coaching profession, who leads by example and expects athletes to set and strive to reach goals. The candidate must demonstrate both technical skills and personal commitment to the physical, social and psychological well being of the athletes.
Hitt is a coach for rhythmic gymnastics and has been involved with Special Olympics Illinois as a coach and instrumental member of the gymnastics program for more than 16 years.
In addition to her career as a coach, Hitt has been a volunteer, certified training school clinician, a key event management volunteer and a Team Illinois and Team USA coach.
Her dedication to Special Olympics has changed lives as she is skilled in identifying her athletes’ strengths and weaknesses, according to the Special Olympics Illinois. She has created individual practice plans and skill progressions to provide the highest quality instruction in order to determine what each athlete needs in order to learn and perform their best, according to the organization.
Hitt initiated special needs gymnastics classes at the World Class Gymnastics Center in Belleville in 1998 and formed a Special Olympics team within the next year.
The young members who train at World Class Gymnastics Center have grown up with her Special Olympics team and have welcomed athletes as their friends and training partners, according to Special Olympics.
Hitt “has gone above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of her athletes as she continues to encourage acceptance and teamwork,” according to a statement from Special Olympics Illinois.
In being named the Outstanding Athlete, Dunn was recognized for achievements, dedication and commitment to team and himself and exemplifies the purpose of Special Olympics.
Dunn has been involved with Special Olympics over the past 10 years. He competes in multiple events including basketball, bocce, bowling, golf, softball, snowshoeing and track and field through the Southern Illinois Grasshoppers.
He also volunteers and serves on committees for Special Olympics to make competitions and fundraisers a success.
Dunn has been a crucial part of Special Olympics and is known throughout the community as a diplomat for the organization, and has helped raise more than $75,000 benefiting Special Olympics Illinois Southwestern Area 12, according to the organization.
Throughout his time with Special Olympics, Dunn has “inspired other athletes and coaches to get involved and make a difference in the lives of individuals with and without intellectual disabilities.”
His nominator said, “Over the past three years, I have had the privilege and honor to get to know Charles as a competitor, Global Messenger, Special Olympics ambassador and most importantly friend.”
Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit organization offering year-round training and completion in 19 sports for more than 22,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and more than 20,000. For more information, visit www.soill.or