About 500 athletes and more than 100 coaches, representing 32 teams, will participate on Saturday, November 18, in the annual Special Olympics Illinois State Floor Hockey Competition, held at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
State Floor Hockey is one of 13 state sports competitions for the Special Olympics and Saturday marks the final competition for those participating in floor hockey, which is a stand-alone competition and serves as a showcase for Special Olympic floor hockey athletes to demonstrate the skills they have learned throughout the year.
“This is a wonderful single-day tournament held in Chicago,” said Brianna Beers, Director – State Championships for the Illinois Special Olympics. “Most of the teams are from the Chicagoland area, with one from southern Illinois.”
The event also features 39 individual skills athletes.
Participants come from throughout Chicago and the suburbs, including Cook, DuPage and Will counties, plus one team from Mascoutah, Illinois.
Participants range in age from 13 to 75.
“Special Olympics transforms the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, allowing them to realize their full potential in sports and in life,” Beers said. “Special Olympics programs enhance physical fitness, motor skills, self-confidence, social skills and encourage family and community support. This global organization unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sport, every day around the world.
“Our athletes compete to their fullest potential and want to win. They are very competitive, want to achieve and play to the best of their abilities.”
Athletes must train and practice for a minimum of eight weeks. They must play in three games against other teams prior to this event. Individual skills athletes also must train for 8 weeks but must receive a gold medal at a local qualifier before advancing.
“Our athletes are extremely competitive, so (they) are very happy when they win and can display disappointment when they lose,” Beers said. “We truly want them to be happy with themselves and their team when they lose, so we have divisions based on ability to make sure everyone has a fair shot.”
This year’s event has seven more teams than in 2022.
“All of our athletes bring something great to the table,” Beers said.The officials for Saturday’s event are mostly referees from the Illinois Hockey Officials Association (IHOA), led by Jon and Jack Raslawski.
“This has been a great partnership that I have been lucky to work with,” Beers said. “Each official IHOA brings in is a great service and they enhance our tournament each year for our athletes, coaches and families.”
Said Jack Raslawski: “Every referee needs to experience officiating one floor hockey game and that will bring them back year after year. These athletes don’t have disabilities; they all have abilities they just need to be given a chance.”
IHOA and AHAI have supported this program for the past 12 years.
The Raslawski brothers are regulars at the annual event, joined by such IHOA members as Steve Drews, Tom Hughes, Dan Barrett, Stephen Ban, Jimmy Nge and Dennis Lee, among others.
The event also will have an esports station, so attendees can see new games and learn how they can get involved. “We also have a Healthy Habits Station that focuses on different health initiatives, such as, how to eat healthier, ways to work out at home and how smoking can affect your everyday life and in competition,” Beers said.