Kelly Stevenson of Naples, Florida Surprised with Top Honor
Special Olympics North America is honored to announce the selection of Kelly Stevenson from Naples, Florida, as Special Olympics North America’s 2017 Coach of the Year.
Stevenson has dedicated a large part of her life to Special Olympics for the past 27 years. After spending the first nine years involved in her native state of Ohio, Stevenson quickly jumped into coaching after relocating to Collier County. She became an integral part of the Collier County Management Team, where she has served for the last nine years. Additionally, she has been the primary liaison between Special Olympics Florida – Collier County and Immokalee High School (IHS) for the past 12 years.
The Immokalee community is comprised of mostly migrant farm workers living at or below the poverty level, about 45 minutes from the heart of Naples. It is within this community that Stevenson initiated Special Olympics Project UNIFY at IHS in 2012. After the success of implementation, she united the rest of the Collier County Public Schools during the 2014-2015 school year to also start a Project UNIFY program, which allowed for further unification of the community. This integration also included the first Youth Activation Counsel event in 2016, which featured team building exercises for all participants, further increasing inclusion.
During her tenure, Stevenson has increased the number of sports that Immokalee athletes compete in from two to nine, allowing them to compete year-round. She worked with her athletic department to create an award system for Special Olympics athletes based on their individual sports participation. She has also developed a strong Special Olympics Unified Sports program, combining athletes with intellectual disabilities with partners without intellectual disabilities on the same playing field.
Stevenson is a certified coach and has trained her Special Olympics athletes to compete in flag football, basketball, bowling, soccer and track and field. Her Unified basketball, soccer and flag football teams have competed at the local and state levels, receiving many accolades. However, it is clear Stevenson’s coaching goes beyond the playing field and the classroom. She has displayed great leadership in building an inclusive community both in her school district and Collier County by encouraging her athletes, students and school district to get involved and give back.
The Coach of the Year Award was established in 1995 and is given annually to an active, certified Special Olympics coach who has met several criteria, particularly their having made a significant and demonstrable impact on the local Special Olympics Program, the community and most importantly, the athletes. There are more than 135,000 coaches within Special Olympics North America, providing instruction and competition in more than 32 sports. The impressive scope and contributions of all those coaches, puts this momentousness of this award into perspective.
Eighteen individuals representing the United States, Canada and the Caribbean were named 2017 Coach of the Year finalists, and represent Special Olympics North America’s most exemplary coaches — true leaders and dedicated volunteers who serve as role models to other coaches, inside and outside of Special Olympics. Finalists included Donna Bilous (BC, Canada); Fran Brett (PA); Jim Dawson (NV); Cassandra Dickerson (TX); Mark Field (CO); Derrick Ford (CT); Juanita Garten Eckert (IN); Michael Ghant (KY); Brian Hamel (ME); Wayne Hancock (GA); Donna Hollis (No. CA); Larry Kolwaite (NY); Kathleen O’Connell (IL); David Pruder (MI); Shane Richards (Jamaica); Cindy Schopper (ND); and Savannah Seiple (WA).