Area26 news & updates

Fall 2023 | Issue 38
Let me win, but if I cannot win,
Let me be brave in the attempt.
OK, we are now headed into cooler weather, and with that, the Fall Season. This issue will recap key Summer fun, and provide info for Fall. Watch for blasts with additional info and look for our Start-of-Winter season issue right after Fall Games. Make sure to send photos and articles so that your sports and teams can be featured. As happens when new fun things are coming up, we held this release to let them happen and report on them.

Now, on to the stories...
In this edition...
  • Dulles Plane Pull
  • Richard J Emory Memoriam and Golf Fundraiser
  • Hail and farewell
  • Summer Basketball
  • NGA Global Messengers
  • TopGolf
  • Fall Golf
  • Open Water Swim
  • A14 Volleyball Scrimmage
  • A23 Football Scrimmage
  • Armor of God Event
  • Ski Notice
  • Chipotle Fundraiser results
  • CPK Fundraiser
  • Hail and farewell
  • Athlete's Corner
  • Volunteer of the Quarter
  • Health Corner
  • Virtual Activities
  • Area 26 Participation Policy 
  • Registration Resources
  • Staff Directory
31st Annual Dulles Plane Pull

On September 9th, Dulles Airport hosted it's 31st running of the Plane Pull for SOVA. Teams from companies, law enforcement agencies and SOVA sports from all over Virginia came out for an exciting day of "Plane Amazing" fun.

Area 26 was aided by a large corporate donation from Maxar Technologies, and overall managed to raise over $9600 to support local and State programs.

We had a team of 25 athletes (with both the Avengers and WarHawks out IN FORCE), coaches and Maxar volunteers at the ready to pull when nature decided the day was over. BIG lightning and storms on the way unfortunately caused the Airport safety personnel to pull the plug on the day.
Area 26 had several volunteer leaders who showed up even before opening to help out...
Pull Coaches Kyler Reese and Stephen James with SOVA President Dave Thomason and your editor
The Roney Family and Maxar Star Susan Perenic helped out amongst others at the Hamburger Stand.
Avengers early crew assembling!
Most of the Maxar portion of the SuperJets ready to flex!!
More Maxar Crew enjoying the band!
WarHawks chillin near the band
Avengers and WarHawks at the ready as superteam SuperJets!!
Some of the amazing aircraft on the static flight line for the show day
Lightning crashes, and we all have to leave early...
Mark J. Emory Memorial Golf Tournament

Registration is in full swing for the 18th Annual Special Olympics Area 26 Mark J. Emery Memorial Golf Tournament. This Fundraiser event helps to fund Special Olympics activities for 2100 athletes in 24sports. Our tournament needs your support - teamsplayersdonorsvolunteersand items for auction...
Thursday, October 19, 2023
Westfields Golf Course, Chantilly, Virginia

  • 18 holes of golf, Lunch and Steak Dinner
  • Unlimited Beverages
  • Silent Auction, too!
For additional information, please contact the Event Chair, Chuck Roney at
Hail and Farewell
A new era begins!

We are happy to welcome Joe Smith, Veronica Jenning's replacement here in NOVA to the Area. Joe has worked in the non-profit and sport for good sector for the past ten years. Since graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Joe has worked on both the international and domestic stage. Prior to joining Special Olympics Virginia, Joe worked for PeacePlayers International, an organization dedicated to bridging divides through the game of basketball. There he played various roles as a facilitator and leader, contributing to program growth and organizational development.

Throughout his career, Joe has been driven by the power of sport to transform lives. He loves collaborating with people, especially young people, to play a role in the positive development of others and believes deeply in the healing power of sport.

He resides in Alexandria, VA with his two kids, Jordan and Noah and his wife Kasey.
Summer Highlights and Fall Kickoff

We are early in the season, but much is already rolling as we get ready for events and tournaments for Fall. Here are some "early returns"...
Summer Basketball
Who plays basketball in the summer? We do! Our athletes met up with the National United Arab Emirates (UAE) Girls' Basketball team for a unified scrimmage! 
Picture courtesy of Robin Utz
For many seasons now, members of the basketball programs in and around Fairfax have met for a Summer training program at GMU. Here is the latest group at their last practice of the season...Kudos to Coaches Jeff Eskridge and Barb Lotterer for returning every summer to run this great program!
Picture courtesy of Jeff Eskridge
Global Messengers represent at NGA
by Robin Utz

On May 23, 2023, Global Messengers and Mentors were invited to speak at the 2023 Intelligence Community Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Day at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Our own Area 26 Athletes Grant Harris and William "Billy" Duquette joined the panel of Special Olympics Global Messengers to help spread the word of "How to Improve Recruiting, Hiring, and Retention of Persons with Disabilities in the Intelligence Community". Grant and Billy shared their job experiences and why it is important to recognize the talents each person brings to the workplace and community. 
by Robin Utz

We are entering our 2nd season of Topgolf. Our golfers are improving skills and having fun every Monday at TopGolf DC in Loudoun. Thanks goes to Coach Chuck Roney and Coach Nicholas Kirwan!

We appreciate being able to join Area 14 athletes, too! 
by Robin Utz

During the spring and summer months our golf athletes and partners play at Jefferson District Golf Course in Falls Church. 
Our fall season is in full swing! From athletes who have never held a golf club to seasoned golfers who mesmerize our coaches, we are welcomed at Burke Lake Golf Center every Saturday afternoon. Gratitude is the attitude for our amazing cadre of dedicated coaches. 
Open Water Swim
by Terry Mitchell

The Special Olympics Virginia Area 26 Open Water Swim Team, Potomac River Dolphins, completed a 15.3 mile relay swim as part of the DC Marathon Swim. Team members Jenny Mitchell, Carl Alf, Rose Pleskow and Luke Ferris trained all summer with Wave One Swimming for this incredible event. The course began in the Potomac River near Chain Bridge, passed all the sites of DC and Alexandria and finished over 3 miles south of the Wilson Bridge. What an amazing experience for the team to see all the monuments from the water. The team had to navigate currents, winds, and tides throughout the day, but they all ended with smiles at its conclusion. The event proves once again that there are no limits in the athletic pursuits of Special Olympics Athletes. 
Rose Pleskow swims with swim partner David Kaizer alongside guide kayaker Keshawn Hiley.
John and Luke Ferris swim past the Washington Monument as they are guided down the Potomac River by kayaker Keshawn Hiley.
Jennifer Mitchell swims right down the middle of the Potomac River guided by kayaker Nora Jodrey..
Carl Alf pops his head up out the water to sight his path under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
A tremendous amount of support went into this event to ensure the safety of the swimmers. The Potomac River Dolphins would like to thank the Joey Pizzano Memorial Fund for its financial support of this swim, Denis Crean and Wave One for their financial support and overall coordination of the event, technical coach Tom Hull, unified partners, John Ferris, David Kaizer and Chio Hatakeyama, kayakers Nora Jodrey and Keshawn Hiley, official observer Taylor Gunther, boat captains Bryce and Terry Mitchell, and parent support from Patti Alf, Susan Pleskow and John Ferris.
Volleyball Season gets going...

Last season our WarHawks hosted Area 14 to scrimmage with us at Cassel’s. We thank Area 14 for hosting the volleyball scrimmage this season at Hoops Plus. Great matchup! 
Local Area Football scrimmage...

The Avengers Team scrimmaged with their same-named rivals the Area 23 Avengers at Colgan High School in Manassas. Many thanks to Area 23 for hosting this event. - ALWAYS fun!! Here are some pictures...
Soccer "kicks off"...

Woodson HS hosted a not-rained-out soccer tournament at the end of September. Here are some highlights from the day...
Davis Diamonds
Davis Dons
GMU Mason Nation
GMU Patriots (Coach Mike Frew - Black shirt in the middle of the group...) also runs the Youniquely Fit online program every week. A link for this is in the Online Section below!!
Eagles Blue
Armor of God Combat Zone

The Avengers and Powerlifter Matt Whiteside ventured forth to VA Beach to compete in a new event program sponsored by AOG. Both the Avengers and Matt finished FIRST in the programs, with the Avengers narrowly defeating their main State rival, the VA Beach D-Boys, who they will see again at State Games.
2023 Avengers [L to R]: (Front Row) Billy Duquette, Jay Choi and Tom Merz
(Middle Row) Sam Selnick, Kyler Reese, Hoang Phan, Tony Linthicum, Chris Robinson,
Coach Jim Warson, Nick Ortega and Austin Ward
(Back Row) Coach Barry Tilton, Stephen James, Matt Sapienza, Coach Matt Ellistion,
Sean Minnick, Max Hershberger and Nick Donlon
[L to R] Powerlifting Coach Bill Whiteside, Matt Whiteside and Coach Matt Elliston
Winter is coming...Alpine Teaser...

Are you an athlete or coach looking for a new winter sport? Try the Alpine Ski and Snowboard team! No experience is necessary, but it is helpful. 
We begin dry land training in November and hit the slopes in January. We practice on Sunday mornings from 11-noon for dry land training and from 8-noon on the slopes. For those that qualify, we participate in the Pennsylvania Winter Games in February. 

For questions, please email the Alpine Ski Team coordinator, Ed Morrissey, at
Chipotle Fundraiser...

Here are some shots from the Avengers organized A26 Flag Football Chipotle Fundraiser. Thanks to dedicated effort by Gretchen Ortega to get a solid turnout, the Football program made over $900 in an evening!!

Cal/Ital for the Avengers - California Pizza Kitchen Fundraiser
Avengers (and friends) Assembled on the 28th at our second Area 26 Flag Football fundraising event. A great meal at a fun restaurant for a great cause.

Thanks again to super-mom (yes that is a real super-power) Gretchen Ortega for setting up the event.
Athletes Corner
  • by Kia Hill
Hello Area 26!!!!!

My name is Kia and I am 35 years old. I am happy to be your new Area Athlete Representative. Let me say a few things about me.

I have been playing Special Olympics for 16 years. I play soccer volleyball and basketball. I hope I can join in other SO activities - they look like so much fun and I love trying new sports! I have been able to meet a lot of friends just from Special Olympics alone! I love exercising and motivating people to have confidence in themselves!
INTERVIEW: Nick Ortega

Q: How long have you been a Special Olympics athlete?
A: 8 years
Q: What sports do you play and the name of your teams?
A: I play flag football for the avengers, volleyball for the Warhawks, GMU Basketball and swim
Q:  What is your favorite pro sport team?
A:  Washington Commanders
Q:  What do you do outside of sports?  
A: I love to spend time with friends and play videos games also watch other sports games plus other tv
Q:  Who is your hero?
A: Leo Missi
 Q: What was favorite part about Special Olympics?
A:  My favorite part about Speical Olympics is having fun in the tournaments and after the long games I love to party alongside my teammates
INTERVIEW: Caroline Davis

Q: How long have you been a Special Olympics athlete?
A: 2years
Q: What sports do you play and the name of your teams?
A: Soccer
Q:  What is your favorite pro sport team?
Q:  What do you do outside of sports?  
A: Watch soccer
Q:  Who is your hero?
A: All women soccer players.
Interview: Jacqui Calloway

Q:  How long have you been a special Olympics athlete?
A: Since 2013

Q: What sports do you play and the name of your teams?
A: Volleyball Warhawks, softball Cougars, basketball Edison White. 

Q: What is your favorite pro sport team?
A: All Boston teams but if I hade to pick one I pick Boston Celtics.

Q:  What do you do outside of sports?  
A: Work, hangout with my family, hang out with my fiancé and hang out my friends

Q:  Who is your hero?
A: My Aunt Maria Murphy. She has a disability and she has over come it and has good job. It shows that I can do anything I put my mind to it. 

Q: What was favorite part about Special Olympics?
A: Getting to meet a lot of people. Making new friends. 
I look forward to getting to know many of you in my new role as Athlete Volunteer. If you want to suggest something to our Area Council, you can reach me at my email below.
See at Fall Games and have a great season with Special Olympics 😊!!

Kia Hill

Coaches/Volunteers of the Quarter
  • by Max Hershberger
Matt Elliston
Hello Area 26. In my new role as Athlete Rep Mentor, this month, I got to interview my Football Coach, Matt Elliston. Matt is a multi-sport coach, and I got to talk to him at an early season practice. Here is our conversation…

Me: So, Coach, how long have you been involved in SO, and in what sports? 

Coach Matt: I have been a coach for 5 amazing years. I coach Powerlifting, Flag Football, and Basketball.

Me: Wow, that’s a lot. What is your favorite moment as a coach?

Coach: The best thing about coaching is watching my athletes grow. Teaching new skills that athletes can use on and off the field. One of my athletes came to Special Olympics from a hard situation and had a difficult time speaking to people. Today he has a job! As coaches some of our greatest achievements are off the court.

Me: It’s great to help people!! What are your current roles inside Special Olympics and in Area program? 

Coach: I was honored to be selected as the Virginia Powerlifting coach to the USA games where my athlete (Robert "the hulk" Harris ) took home 4 silver medals. I also coach the area 26 flag football team The Avengers. We have been 4 time Virginia state champions! Avengers Assemble!! I had to sit out most of last season, but I'm looking forward to getting back on the basketball court with the Lightning!

Me: That’s great – what are your goals for your teams this year? 

Matt: My powerlifters grow stronger and stronger every year. We are looking forward to the regional championships in Delaware and plan to take home the Gold in many of the categories! As for the Avengers, my superhero football team has a hard road ahead. Winning a state title 5 years in a row is not easy. Last year we won in overtime at the very end. The competition gets tougher every year. But I have faith my Avengers will be champions once again!

Me: I will sure do my part for the Avengers!! Before we finish, Anything you would like to say about your day job?

Matt: I’m incredibly proud to lead a federal law enforcement agency's Baltimore field office. My Officers work tirelessly to protect the people of the DC area and are the hardest working and most fearless patriots I have ever had the privilege of working with.

Me: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, and good luck (to both of us…) this Fall.
Health Corner...
by Kyler Reese
HI Everyone!!

Even though you can’t prevent every accident, there are lots of things you can do to avoid being sidelined by an injury caused by playing fall sports. Some ways that can help you include: 

-Do warm-ups: Regular stretching helps get the blood pumping and makes sure your muscles and tendons ready for play (and can even help prevent injury). Stretching after exercising is important too because it might reduce muscle tension and more

-Variety in your activities: Try to change your activities and sports that you participate in. Cross-training helps make sure that you don’t over-stress and over-use the same joints and muscles.

-Work on getting enough sleep: The researches say that athletes who got enough sleep every night were 68% likely to be less injured than their peers who did not get enough sleep.

-Eat right: It takes more than just eating a well-balanced diet to stay healthy. Make sure you have a regular meal schedule for eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

-Take downtime: Resting between practices, games, tournaments, and seasons to give yourself enough time to recuperate.

See you next time,
Virtual Activities...
Hi Athletes, Abby Whidden here...

As always, details and schedule for our online programs can be found on the online resources page on the Website.
Area 26 Participation Policy...
Face Mask 1
The US, the State of Virginia and SOVA have declared that the COVID pandemic is officially over. Area 26 is now operating under normal rules. As always, if you are sick, do not join in group activities where you might infect others. For those with compromised immune systems, Masks are recommended but not required.

Athlete families, please verify with your coaches that your paperwork has been approved before arriving for practice or events. The coaching and volunteer staff cannot accept the forms in person and grant immediate access, as SOVA has the approval authorization.
NOTE: When you submit the athlete paperwork via the email address (and volunteer packages to the address) they go both to the Area AND to SOVA for processing.

-- See the Registration Resources section (farther down) for links to all forms --
Registration Resources

Athletes require renewal of their medical certifications every three years (dated from the doctor's signature). Athletes with an expired Medical Form will have to submit updates to all forms. The package now contains 7 pages - please complete and submit the full package (button below).
Athletes, please email completed athlete forms to: (this will deliver them to both the Area AND to SOVA - only the one email address is required)

See the button below for Volunteer Class A Certification Process on the Area 26 website. 

Volunteer Class A, and coach certifications must be updated every 3 years. Coordinators should routinely check and inform their coaches when their packages are are due to expire.
Volunteers, please email completed volunteer forms and certifications to: (as with the athleteform email, this will deliver them to both the Area AND to SOVA - only the one email submission address is required)
Stay Healthy, Stay Active!!

We love to have pictures and articles of/about your Special Olympics activities. If you write them, we will post them!!
Revealing the Champion in all of us...
Please continue to share information about this newsletter and website with those you know in the community so that we can better share the wonder of our special athletes and volunteers. To sign up to receive the newsletter, go to our webform Newsletter Subscription
Area 26 Points of Contact
Area 26 Council

Elaine Tilton

Chuck Adkins-Blanch
Patrick DeLapp
Jeff Eskridge
Christine Fowler
Max Hershberger
Kia Hill
Jay Hoffmeier
Nancy Julia
Katherine Martin
Jeff McGiboney
Tejas Patel
Nancy Robbins
Joe Smith
Abby Whidden
Area 26 Special Olympics |
Season Directors
Elaine Tilton, Fall/Winter

Nancy Julia, Spring/Summer

Barry Tilton

Volunteer Coordinator
Tejas Patel

Athlete Representative
Kia Hill

Medical Coordinator
Christine Fowler

Director, Potomac Region
Joe Smith
When you click, scroll to the bottom of the Site Homepage