Approximately 3,500 Special Olympics athletes from around the country will meet in Mercer County for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, to be held from June 14-21. Athletes with intellectual disabilities will compete in 16 sports games including aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, flag football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball, baseball and triathlon.
Accompanying them will be more than 1,000 coaches and delegates, 10,000 volunteers and 70,000 spectators and family members. The economic impact of the games to the Central New Jersey region will be $116.5 million, but these games and the entire Special Olympics movement is more than just about money.
From Ronald L. Perl’s viewpoint, volunteering and being part of Special Olympics is “a life changing experience. Seeing what Special Olympics does for the children and adult athletes changes your world … and once you are hooked, you are hooked,” says the Hill Wallack partner and member of the law firm’s management committee.
For Marc S. Edenzon, president of both Special Olympics New Jersey and the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, companies that contribute resources,
whether monetary, in-kind or personnel, “understand that they are part of cultural change. They are helping provide the message that our athletes should have the opportunity to be part of the fraternity of sport. … That would then lead to other opportunities like getting a job or participating in school clubs. We think that companies and employees understand that they are part of something bigger. They understand not only the impacts they are having on the citizens of New Jersey, but on the movement throughout the US.”
When Special Olympics New Jersey, a 501(c)3 organization, won the bid to host the games, it created the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, another 501(c)3. This organization, being chaired by T.J. Nelligan of Nelligan Sports Marketing, Inc. in Little Falls, is responsible for raising $20 million in funds and in-kind contributions so that the athletes and coaches from around the country can arrive, compete and stay in New Jersey during the games, free of charge.
The past two USA Games were held at Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska. Knowing the games were going to increase in size and scope, Edenzon thought the time was right to get them to New Jersey, where his organization could play a role in “creating legacy elements” for future games in larger cities.
“Special Olympics New Jersey is known for its innovative programs,” Edenzon says. The national organization recognized that “we had the resources and the elements that are fundamental for the growth of the games when they move to a major city.
“With T.J. Nelligan, we thought we could create a new funding model. We thought we could utilize the media assets here and enhance the athlete experience,” he says.
The elements the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games will use to enhance the athlete experience include hosting them at Trenton Thunder baseball games, dinner cruises along the Hudson River, and at an Olympic town that will have a Jersey Shore theme. Additionally, there will be a Young Athletes Festival where two-to-seven-year-olds can learn about the Special Olympics program. A Unified Sports Festival will be an all-inclusive sporting program where people from the community will participate in sports with athletes. “These will be the most inclusive games in the history of the Special Olympics,” Edenzon says.
As for the media, Fox Broadcasting will be covering the games, airing a show after the event which is being produced by WWE’s Vince McMahon.
The opening ceremonies will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark. Bow and Arrow Productions, which produced Special Olympics opening ceremonies at Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska, is planning the extravaganza. “The Prudential Center is hosting us … they have been remarkable to work with,” Edenzon comments. “Tickets will be hard to come by. We are hoping to bring in 18,000 people. Bow and Arrow Productions’ work is pretty spectacular. The ceremony will be akin to regular Olympic opening ceremonies with teams parading in.” There will be 52 delegations from all 50 states (including the District of Columbia and two delegations from California). New Jersey’s delegation – the largest at the event – will consist of 350 members, including 275 athletes.
More than 1,200 athletes and their families from across the country will be flying into Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing – free of charge – thanks to Cessna and its Citation Special Olympics Airlift. “On the Saturday prior to the games, there will be flights landing every 90 seconds,” Edenzon says.
Events will be held at Princeton University, Rider University, The College of New Jersey, Mercer County parks, the Brunswick Zone Carolier bowling facility, The Hun School, The Lawrenceville School, The Peddie School and Sun National Bank Center.
Perl, at Hill Wallack, has personally been involved with Special Olympics for a number of years. However, this is the first year that staff from the law firm (a Bronze Partner for the USA Games) will be participating. Some 50 employees will be volunteering in almost “every aspect” they can.
“We are also acting as ambassadors to the games,” Perl says, explaining that Hill Wallack has been trying to get other professional service firms – law, CPAs and real estate firms, for example – to become sponsors.
Other Special Olympics corporate sponsors, grant/foundation donors and volunteers in the state include: TD Bank, Barnabas Health, ShopRite, BASF, Delta Dental, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, Bayer Foundation, Horizon, Johnson & Johnson, South Jersey Industries, Novo Nordisk, the Church & Dwight Employee Giving Fund and more.
Just recently, TD Bank, along with TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation and TD Auto Finance, announced that its customers and employees will again be raising funds for Special Olympics through special events and promotions. Last year, the financial institution raised more than $1 million for the organization. “Special Olympics has a significant impact on its athletes and their families, and we are thrilled to help further the work it does to strengthen their communities,” says Fred Graziano, executive vice president, TD Bank.What happens after this summer’s Special Olympics USA Games is just as important to the New Jersey organization as the big event itself. According to Edenzon, “the aftermath of the games – the momentum, the energy and awareness it creates – is something I hope will benefit the state organization and its athletes for years to come.”
The New Jersey organization continues to need coaches and volunteers, since its programs run year-round. According to Edenzon, its 23,000 athletes can easily balloon to 35,000 or 40,000 in a few years. He adds, “When we go to corporations to talk about sponsorships, we finish each meeting by saying, ‘By the way, you have employees who have athletes in their families, and we want to sign them up. You don’t realize that your friends, neighbors and even relatives are all part of our movement in some way.”
Special Olympics New Jersey, established in 1970, needs to raise approximately $8 million per year in order to operate and provide its athletes with year-round sports programs. Companies interested in finding out more about how they can participate in the movement can visit the organization’s website at www.sonj.org.Related Articles: