Athlete of the Year: Jacob Sare
Jacob joined Special Olympics Florida when he was 9 years old. He began with basketball and now competes in bowling, soccer, bocce, athletics and equestrian. He is an Athlete Leader, Global Messenger and Health Messenger. He encourages others through his work as a management team member, his public speaking, his dedication to training other athletes, his fundraising and his leadership in the Pinellas County Athlete Input Council. He advocates for fellow athletes and, in 2015, led an athlete survey at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Whether encouraging other athletes or helping his neighbors bring in groceries, Jacob is driven by a desire to help those around him.
Unified Partner of the Year: Logan Alvarez
Logan was introduced to Special Olympics through his mother, a beloved Miami-Dade County coach. As a child, he cheered from the sidelines, watching his mother coach Southridge Senior High School. He volunteered at State Games handing out lunches.
As a high school student, Logan jumped at the chance to be part of Unified Sports. He established a Special Olympics Unified Champion School Club at Southridge Senior High and started its first Unified Sports team. Logan befriended all his teammates, building a bond through sports. His confidence and kindness is infectious, and he inspired other students to embrace acceptance and inclusion. Logan’s efforts at Southridge have transformed his school. This year, ESPN named Southridge one of the top five Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools in the nation. Logan deserves much of the credit for that. He is a natural leader, a strong communicator and someone who cares deeply about helping others.
Coach of the Year: Michael and Nancy Howard
Nancy and Mike Howard of Palm Beach County have coached Special Olympics Florida athletes for 12 years. They are the force behind “Team Howard,” a team that often serves as an extended family for its athletes. Nancy and Michael happily do anything it takes to ensure their athletes have a great experience with Special Olympics. If a team member needs a ride to an event, they drive them. If athletes need clothing or equipment, they support them. Most importantly, Nancy and Michael provide athletes with a safe and loving environment. They are wonderful role models, dedicated coaches and exceptional people. We are deeply grateful for their care and commitment.
Bill Crutchfield Award: Bill Weidenfeller
Bill has been a coach and volunteer in Collier County for 20 years. He is one of the county’s longest serving coaches and has helped grow both the tennis and cycling programs. After starting a cycling team and serving as head coach, he helped to foster a relationship with Bikes for Tykes in Collier County, ensuring that the athletes would have safe and reliable bikes for competitions. A strong proponent of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes, Bill incorporates its elements into all practices. He is an Athlete Leadership mentor and has coached teams at Special Olympics USA Games, Special Olympics North America Games and Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games. Bill is always willing to help at fundraising events or competitions. He also volunteers at local high school and middle school field days, teaching tennis and cycling to students. Bill is a true champion for our athletes and our mission.
Bill Crutchfield Award:
Craig Gordon has played an indispensable role in Special Olympics Florida - Hillsborough County. Whether serving on the Games Management Team or coaching athletes, he is always looking for new ways to improve the experience for our Special Olympics athletes and their families. He began volunteering for the organization in 1981 and worked with the Area Directors to deepen his understanding of the Special Olympics Florida mission. Craig quickly became a dedicated coach who shows his team kindness, love and unconditional support. Craig’s tireless energy and positive outlook have an immeasurable impact on the athletes he works with and on everyone around him.
Bill Crutchfield Award:
Coach Anna Filannino exemplifies the mission of Special Olympics Florida in everything she does. She is a coach and cheerleader for all Volusia County athletes, and she volunteers as the Family Manager for the Volusia County Management Team. In this role, Anna cares for families when they need it most. If they need a safe place to stay, she helps find one. If they need a ride to the doctor, she provides it. When an athlete goes to the hospital, she is the first to visit. Each year, Anna organizes two well-attended family events. Her desire to serve extends far beyond Volusia County. Her dedication is an inspiration to all of us at Special Olympics Florida.
Family of the Year: The Wigand Family
Supporting Special Olympics Florida is a team effort for the Wigand family. Bobbi Wigand coached in Broward County for 40 years. She coaches bowling, volleyball, basketball, softball, flag football, track, bocce, and golf and thinks of the150 athletes and Unified partners she’s worked with as family. Twice, she has taken teams to Special Olympics USA Games.
Bobbi was previously the Executive Director of Victory Living Programs, a nonprofit that provides adult day training, supported living, employment and social/recreational services to adults with intellectual disabilities. She now serves as the organization’s Development Director and lives in Polk County, where she volunteers for Special Olympics Florida alongside her son, Joseph, and her daughter-in-law, Casey.
Joseph was introduced to Special Olympics when he was a baby, attending bi-weekly practices, and various competitions. He assisted wherever he could and became a Unified partner at the age of 8. He has been a Unified partner in volleyball, basketball, bowling, flag football, and softball. Then, he helped as a coach and Unified partner in college. Today, he and his wife, Casey, are committed volunteers and coaches. They started and now coach a Unified team at Kathleen High School and, before that, introduced Special Olympics programs to Ridge Community High School. In 2019, they coached that school’s Unified Volleyball Team at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
Joseph and Casey’s daughter Sydney is being taught the Special Olympics mission. Though not quite a year old, she’s already attended some practices and competitions. While Bobbi, Joseph and Casey each make a difference individually, their impact is even greater as a family.
Marilyn Grigsby Award: St. Lucie Mets
The Mets host an annual event, the Clinic of Champions, for St. Lucie Special Olympics Florida athletes. It gives athletes the chance to be coached by Mets players and coaches. Prior to the Special Olympics World Games, the New York Mets – the major league affiliate of the St. Lucie Mets – helped an athlete raise money for the World Games and invited her to throw out the first pitch at a game in New York. The St. Lucie Mets have also named Special Olympics Florida as their charity of choice for their Independence Day game. The team is always thinking of ways to bring new and exciting opportunities to our athletes.
Marilyn Grigsby Award:
Pinion consists of dedicated Special Olympics Florida volunteers with a single mission: ensuring that athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities are afforded opportunities that enhance their lives. For 27 years, they have worked toward this goal by organizing fundraising efforts that have produced more than $2.5 million for Special Olympics Florida. Pinion’s tireless support and commitment to inclusion has helped our athletes – especially those in Broward County – in countless ways, and we are so grateful for its help. Pinion is an indispensable advocate of our movement.
Media Organization of the Year: NBC 6
NBC 6 has been incredibly committed to supporting Special Olympics Florida through storytelling and coverage of local games and fundraisers. Reporter Kelly Blanco has served as Master of Ceremonies at the Miami Race for Inclusion, Broward Race for Champions, Miami-Dade Champions for Change Luncheon and the Area Track & Field Games. Recently, she highlighted the Special Olympics Florida Fit 5 Like a Pro Challenge. In 2018, Roxanne Vargas invited Special Olympics Florida to the NBC 6 studio to cover the Torch icon Campaign at Publix and Special Olympics USA Games gymnastics athletes. Most recently, NBC 6 invited Linsey Smith, our vice president of communications and South Florida operations, to serve on its Community Action Board. NBC 6 has shown it is committed to sharing powerful stories about the work nonprofits do in its community.
Sports Organization of the Year: Highland Park Sports
Highland Park Sports is a family sports program and facility associated with Highland Park Church. It offers a range of sports opportunities for young people in the Lakeland area. In 2018, Highland Park Sports approached us, offering its facility and began dedicating every Sunday afternoon to Special Olympics Florida. Since then, Polk County has added 75 athletes, and it expects that growth to continue. Highland Park Sports offers us a full-service facility, and it provides knowledgeable coaches, Unified partners and volunteers. It has been integral in supporting the development of Special Olympics Florida - Polk County.