Articles by Megan Filipi

Special Smiles Screening Helps Beau Receive Urgent Dental Work

Meet Beau Vinton, a Special Olympics Iowa athlete who is active in many sports. Some of Beau’s favorite sports include bowling, track and field, basketball, and Unified golf.

This past spring Beau qualified to compete at the Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games in the 4×100 run relay and mini javelin events. When he wasn’t competing at the Summer Games, Beau decided to do the Healthy Athlete screenings that are offered to all athletes during the games. One of the Healthy Athletes disciplines is Special Smiles which gives athletes a dental screening. During Beau’s Special Smiles screening, it was discovered that Beau was in urgent need of some dental work. Through Special Olympics Iowa’s partner agencies, Beau was able to receive the dental work he urgently needed.

“We are very grateful for the Special Olympics Special Smiles program and appreciate the quick guidance on how to get Beau’s dental work completed. Since his Special Smiles screening at Summer games, Beau has been able to have one tooth extraction as well as a full dental exam. He is now scheduled to also receive a filling,” shared April Vinton, Beau’s mother.

Each year thousands of athletes are given the opportunity to receive Healthy Athletes screenings – Special Smiles, Opening Eyes, FUNfitness, Fit Feet, Health Promotion, Healthy Hearing, and MedFest. Beau is one of the many athletes who were able to receive the urgent care they needed because they did a Healthy Athletes screening.

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Meet the Team Representing Iowa at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games

Special Olympics Iowa is pleased to announce the team that will be representing Iowa at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games next year in Orlando! In a little less than one year – June 5-12, 2022 – more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean will travel to Orlando to compete before more than 125,000 fans, spectators, and volunteers.

Among those over 5,500 athletes and coaches will be Team Special Olympics Iowa:

Athletics Bowling
Head Coach: Rob Wagner Head Coach: Julie Pence
Assistant Coach: Brenda Haefner Assistant Coach: Angela Wright
Assistant Coach: Kirk Haefner Nicole Skelley
Tomi DeGrado Shelly Snyder
Abbi Stastny Tyler Leech
Nathan Paulsen Patrick Gulbranson
Alexandra Fountain Jody Sheriff
Abigail Cvrk Kristy Sheriff
Charity Hodson Tasha Conklin
Brandon Baier Kevin Conklin
Collins Clingman
John Flannery Cheerleading
Patrick Smith Head Coach: Kelly Cocks
Jonathan Blankenship Assistant Coach: Teri Christensen
Assistant Coach: Helen Dao
Bocce Leon Nguyen
Head Coach: Molly Vander Linden Dustin Burke
Assistant Coach: Laurie Fallon Emily Mulder
Kim Lively Daniel Custis
Matthew Johnson Ian Kastner
Sue Davis Teddy Velman
Cari Davis
Gracy Elsenbast Equestrian
Emma Harle Head Coach: Kim Stine
Emma Marlow Abbie Kliegl
Erin Peterson
Flag Football  Head Coach: Troy Betsworth
Head Coach: Tim Atkin Assistant Coach: Rob Baldus
Assistant Coach: Bruce Barnett Amanda Bride
Assistant Coach: Corey Leonhard Jessica Copple
Eric St. Clair Mitchell Betsworth
Chris Ashbaugh Isaac Baldus
Matthew Trujillo Joshua Davis
Jay Small Kevin Ahrendsen
Kevin Brockert
Angela Collins Swimming
Adie Strong Head Coach: Mark Robinson
Danielle Mally Assistant Coach: Michelle Bussanmas
Brad Small Christina Rasmussen
Travis Moss Kaitlin Colwell
Desiree Peterson
Golf Emily White
Head Coach: Keith Pease Patrick Cunningham
Jesse Pease Keen Harvey
Jason Pease Adam Rininger
Brian Rolek Preston Stevens
Jill Southworth
Intercollegiate Unified Basketball Head Coach: Sydney Dommer
Head Coach: Tommy Schorer Angela Dohrn
Assistant Coach: Adam Walsh Alexandria Brooks
Austin Climer Billy Habermann
William Woodruff Nathan Williams
Dylan Soppe
Elliot Lee Youth Leadership Experience
Hayli Schumacher Mentor: Lisa Klien
Cali Schmitz Jacob Whack
Jaison Marks
Jenah McCarty Head of Delegation: Seann DeMaris
Maddie Schulte Assistant Head of Delegation: Rhonda Schwarzkopf
Wes Jackson Additional Staff: Kevin Kemp

The USA Games will kick off on June 5, 2022, with the Opening Ceremony in Exploria Stadium.  The games will showcase 19 Olympic-style team and individual sports, including athletics (track & field), basketball, bocce, bowling, cheerleading, equestrian, flag football, golf, gymnastics, open water swimming, powerlifting, soccer, softball, stand up paddleboard, surfing, swimming, tennis, triathlon, and volleyball.

The USA Games will be hosted at various venues across Orlando, with the main location being ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort. Other sporting facilities across Orlando include Boardwalk Bowl Entertainment Center, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Lake Minneola Waterfront Park, Lucky’s Lake, Orange County National Gold Center, Osceola Heritage Park, Rosen Aquatic Center, and USTA National Campus.

To learn more about the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games visit Follow the organization on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Rhonda Schwarzkopf is Retiring After 22 Years

Special Olympics Iowa Director of Sports and Advanced Competitions Rhonda Schwarzkopf is retiring on March 5 after 22 years with Special Olympics Iowa.

Rhonda first joined Special Olympics Iowa in 1998 as an Office Manager. She went on to be Director of Field Services, Director of Training and Outreach, and the Director of Sports and Advanced Competitions. Though Rhonda’s responsibilities changed over the years, one thing never did, her desire to always provide more opportunities to the athletes. She was instrumental in implementing the current tennis competition layout at the Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games and expanded the Opening Ceremonies at state-level competitions allowing more athletes to be included.

“I speak for everyone when I say we have been very fortunate to have Rhonda on staff for the last 22 years. Rhonda’s wealth of knowledge and dedication to the athletes and Unified partners will be missed,” said John Kliegl, Special Olympics Iowa President and CEO.

As Rhonda prepares to move into the next chapter of her life, she is reminded of all of the great experiences she has had over the years. Being Head of Delegation for Team Iowa at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games and honoring key volunteers while celebrating the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics rank among her favorite experiences.

“I have been so blessed to be surrounded by people who graciously donate their time and talents,” shared Rhonda. “Thank you to the athletes, Unified partners, coaches and volunteers who have helped make the last 22 years so enjoyable. It has been very rewarding watching the athletes learn sport-skills and then apply those skills to the year-round events they compete in.”

This isn’t goodbye, just see you later, as Rhonda plans to attend future Special Olympics Iowa events as a volunteer or spectator and cheer on the athletes and Unified partners. She is especially excited for when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted because it will be a time to celebrate.

“We look forward to seeing Rhonda and Dan’s smiling faces as volunteers for years to come,” said John.

The Special Olympics Iowa family thanks Rhonda for her years of service and commitment to the mission.

Congratulate Rhonda via e-mail at

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Special Olympics Health Messenger – Lisa Spencer

The only way to end exclusion is to have people who face these challenges daily help create the solution. People with intellectual disabilities are guiding us toward solutions in our health work. The Special Olympics Health Messenger program was born out of this notion of participation. In order to create more effective public health programs, improve health systems, and engage communities to support the health of people with intellectual disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities must have leadership roles in the health system.

Special Olympics Health Messengers are athletes who are trained to serve as health and wellness leaders, educators, advocates, and role models within their Special Olympics communities, as well as their community at large. They are leading their teams, families, friends, and communities to pursue healthy lifestyles, and are advocating for healthcare providers and governments to adopt inclusive policies around health, wellness services, education, and resources for people with intellectual disabilities.

Since the pandemic began, Special Olympics North America has completed three virtual Health Messenger trainings. Special Olympics Iowa’s very own Lisa Spencer was chosen to be a member of the third cohort of virtual Health Messenger trainees. Read more about Lisa’s story below:

Two years ago, Lisa Spencer had things she wanted to do, like feeling good while showing horses, but her weight would get in the way. Lisa knew something had to change, so she began going to the gym and focusing on nutrition and water intake. Since Lisa started her weight loss journey, she has lost over 140 pounds and gained a passion for health.

Lisa’s newfound passion for health and fitness led her to apply and become a Special Olympics Health Messenger. She hopes to use her weight loss journey to inspire others. Lisa’s goal as a Health Messenger is to help fellow athletes and her community lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. She has already begun working towards her goal by speaking with different groups about her health journey and what goes into leading a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Lisa wants everyone to remember: “It’s never too late to start living a healthy life.”

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Sioux City Unified Pair Wins Midwest Regional Special Olympics Unified Golf Tournament

Sudden death playoff ends with Sioux City Unified pair winning first-ever Regional Special Olympics Unified Golf Tournament at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club in Albert Lea, Minnesota on July 14.

Jesse Pease, Sioux City Knight’s athlete, and brother, Jason Pease went into the final hole of play having led the whole tournament.  During the play of the final hole, the Pease brothers found themselves trailing for the first time.  The pair was able to save par putting them into a sudden death match against a Minnesota pair.  The match ended with the Pease brothers making par and winning the match, and ultimately the tournament.


Keith Pease, father of Jesse and Jason, shared, “This was truly an outstanding event; we found it rewarding to witness the respect athletes had for each other’s abilities and accomplishments.”

The two day Special Olympics Unified match play tournament featured more than 10 Unified pairs from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.  A Unified pair combines individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same team allowing both the athlete and partner to grow on and off the competition field.  Unified sports promote inclusion and friendship for all.


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First Ever Special Olympics Iowa Youth Summit Brought Together Students From Across Iowa


This past week Special Olympics Iowa held the first annual Youth Summit which brought together students from across the state to discuss inclusion and develop action plans that they can take back to their local communities.  The summit had 65 attendees ranging from 7th graders to juniors in high school.  The schools that sent students to the summit were East High School, Goodrell Middle School, Hoover High School, IKM-Manning Schools, North Scott Junior High, Robert Blue Middle School, Roosevelt High School, Spencer High School, Urbandale High School, Wayne Community High School and Harlan Community Schools.

The event tackled the topics of motivating and empowering others, accountability, leadership and Unified sports.  Participants also participated in a Hy-Vee KidsFit workshop and capped the day off with a pool party.


“It was wonderful seeing so many youth leaders come together to share ideas and stories about the Unified Generation and to learn more about how the simple concept of inclusion can change the culture of an entire school,” shared Bryan Coffey, Special Olympics Iowa Director of Unified Programs.

All participants were students at Unified Champions Schools, schools that bring together students with and without intellectual disabilities through education, sports and youth leadership to provide them with the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to create and sustain school communities that promote acceptance and respect.


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Casey’s General Stores Holds Special Olympics Promotion During the Month of June

64486916_10156028329886046_3417392008686206976_nWe have teamed up with Casey’s General Store and Coca-Cola for the month of June!  When you stop by your local Casey’s store during the month of June, you will be able to “round up” for Special Olympics Iowa. This means that you will have the opportunity to round up your total as a donation to Special Olympics Iowa. 10 cents will also be donated when individuals buy a pizza slice and a 20 oz. Coca-Cola drink for $4.


Casey’s General Store and Coca-Cola have been longtime supporters of Special Olympics Iowa and the Inclusion Revolution. Their generosity and support helps us to provide sports training and athletic competition to over 16,000 Special Olympics Iowa athletes and Unified partners.

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Iowa Unified Basketball Team Competes in NIRSA Championships

By: Lexxi O’Brien

The University of Iowa took a Unified team to the NIRSA basketball championships in Wichita, Kansas. The team went face-to-face with competitors across the nation including Louisville, Eastern Washington University and Oregon. Iowa ended up 1-2 at the end of the tournament. The University of Iowa was one of 12 teams in the nation to be selected to participate in the Unified Division.

The team practiced for the duration of 6 weeks, during and following the University’s regular Unified basketball intramural season. To prepare for the tournament, The University of Iowa played an exhibition game against St. Ambrose University’s Unified intramural championship team! Unified intramurals at Iowa started with flag football in 2017 and has since progressed to add volleyball and basketball. Ongoing support from the recreational services department and our Unified partners makes this program at Iowa thrive.IMG_5857 edited

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