“I was overwhelmed and a little in shock,” said Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) Coach, Allison Wonch, when she was awarded the Special Olympics North America (SONA) Outstanding Coach Award this month. “I am so thankful for the families and school community who continue to support Special Olympics for our athletes; giving them this great opportunity to thrive.”
Wonch began her SOMI Coaching career in 2005, when she started teaching Adapted Physical Education. Special Olympics competitions were a perfect fit for her students to celebrate the joy of sport. From there, Wonch’s involvement with Special Olympics grew, volunteering her time more often, drawn to the energy she found when engaged with her team. “It really is all about the athletes,” Wonch explained. “Our athletes have incredible skills to share. As a coach, I get to help them prepare to shine at their games.”
With a great need for coaches and volunteers as Special Olympics Michigan athletes return to in-person play in 2022, Wonch is hopeful her story will encourage others to get involved. “There is so much joy associated with coaching,” she said. “I have found that during my time as a coach, it feels like everything is right in sports. You get to help support athletes as they work to achieve individual and team goals. The community, the inclusion, the belonging that occurs in Special Olympics is so wonderful. When you get yourself involved in it, you want to stay involved.”
It's the athletes that inspire Wonch to continue to show up each day. The pandemic has reinvigorated her commitment to coaching and the quest for inclusion. “In the last year, our athletes have worked hard to push through the struggles and restrictions that COVID has set for all of us,” Wonch shared. “They have continued to participate, to attend practices, to learn and practice meaningful skills that they can take to competition. They have shown resilience as they prepared for competitions learning how to follow new protocols at practices.”
As much as she gives, Wonch takes away from her time as a coach. She works to instill a sense of belonging and community for her players, something she says she walks away with each time she leaves practice.