Special Olympics team members win awards for soccer skills

Haley, a senior at EPHS, works on her soccer skills during a recent practice of the District 401 Special Olympics team.

Haley, a senior at EPHS, works on her soccer skills during a recent practice. Haley was one of six District 401 student-athletes to earn first-place honors from Special Olympics Illinois. (D401 photo by Dave Porreca)


Six District 401 student-athletes have been recognized by Special Olympics Illinois for their skills in soccer.

They each won first place in their respective divisions in the October Virtual Soccer Skills Competition.

The student-athletes displayed their skills in passing, dribbling and scoring, and their results were compared with those of peers in neighboring counties to determine the final placings.

The District 401 Special Olympics team is coached by Mr. Jason Friesl, special education teacher at Elmwood Park High School. The student-athletes practice weekly at Elmwood Elementary School.

Congratulations to the following team members:

  • Maria, 10th grade, EPHS — first place in Division F1
  • Haley, 12th grade, EPHS — first place in Division F2
  • Gavin, 3rd grade, John Mills — first place in Division M1
  • Gevryel, 9th grade, EPHS — first place in Division M2
  • Edwin, 10th grade, EPHS — first place in Division M2
  • Jonathan, 11th grade, EPHS — first place in Division M3

Special Olympics team members

ABOVE: Award-winning members of the District 401 Special Olympics team take a break during a recent practice. From left are Edwin, 10th grade; Jonathan, 11th grade; Haley, 12th grade; and Maria, 10th grade. Each of the student-athletes won first-place honors from Special Olympics Illinois for their soccer skills. Award winners not pictured are Gavin, 3rd grade, and Gevryel, 9th grade. District 401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


Mr. Friesl has been with the District's Special Olympics program since it began in the fall of 2019. The District team debuted that year at a basketball skills event in Hoffman Estates.

Students must be 8 years or older and have a developmental disability to participate in Special Olympics. Families must complete a medical application, signed and approved by their doctor, as well as consent and COVID-19 protocol forms.

To learn more about the Special Olympics program, D401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca recently interviewed Mr. Friesl via email. Congratulations again to all participants! 


Q&A with Special Olympics Coach Jason Friesl


Your team members won first-place awards from Special Olympics Illinois in the October Virtual Skills Competition. What skills were the students evaluated on, and how was the competition conducted?

We primarily worked on the dribbling, passing and scoring components of soccer. Although there was no in-person event held, our student-athletes practiced at Elmwood Elementary weekly, so we were able to record our scores each week in practice and post entries to a virtual leaderboard updated by Special Olympics. Special Olympics Illinois is divided into regions, so our student-athletes’ scores were compared to those of competing programs within Cook, DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties.


Soccer practice

ABOVE: Coach Jason Friesl protects the goal against a shot by Special Olympics team member Jonathan, an EPHS junior. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


How often do team members participate in competitions?

Special Olympics offers monthly competitions, and we compete each month. This month’s (November) sport is football, so we will practice punting, passing and kicking. Similar to last month, our student-athletes will practice in person and have entry scores posted to a new leaderboard against competing programs within our region.


Soccer practice

ABOVE: Special Olympics team member Edwin, an EPHS sophomore, launches a shot on goal during a recent practice. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


For those who are unfamiliar with the program, could you tell us about Special Olympics in District 401? What sports are offered to District students, and what’s the schedule throughout the school year?

Elmwood Park’s Special Olympics program provides eligible students with opportunities to compete in all sports offered through Special Olympics. We have a unique schedule of events this year, which includes virtual competitions monthly, as well as in-person events held throughout the year. For the rest of this year, events will be virtual. Come springtime, though, we should be able to compete in in-person soccer skills and track & field events, which Special Olympics has offered in previous years.


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Haley, an EPHS senior, displays the dribbling skills that helped her to earn a first-place award from Special Olympics Illinois. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for large view).


How long have you been the District’s Special Olympics coach, and how many students are typically involved?

This is my third year coaching Special Olympics. Prior to the pandemic, we’ve had as many as nine students involved. This year, we have six students participating and anticipate one more joining us once their medical application is completed.


Coach Jason Friesl

ABOVE: Jason Friesl, a special education teacher at EPHS, has coach the Special Olympics team since its inception in 2019. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image for larger view).


What did you and your students do last year during hybrid learning? How did you handle being remote?

Our practices were held virtually during remote/hybrid learning. After class, students would join a Google Meet to work on functional fitness exercises and skills related to sporting competitions offered each month.

This past April, we actually had two student-athletes participate in an in-person soccer skills event at Hinsdale South High School in Darien. Both athletes placed in the top three in their divisions, which I think was well-deserved after practicing for several months.

Currently, we offer both in-person and virtual practice sessions weekly in consideration of family preferences. The competitions we have participated in so far have been virtual, though we expect to compete in in-person events come spring, which is typically when Special Olympics offers soccer and track & field events.


More Photos of the Special Olympics Team


The following photos were taken at a recent practice of the District 401 Special Olympics team. The practices are held weekly at Elmwood Elementary School. All photos are by District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca (click images for larger view).


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Maria prepares to do a soccer drill as she gets a little help from her teammate Edwin.


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Jonathan practices his footwork while teammates Haley and Edwin wait their turn.


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Coach Friesl gets ready for a shot on goal from Edwin.


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Soccer isn't the only sport that team members practice. Softball is a favorite of many!


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Edwin connects for a hit as Coach Friesl looks on.


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Haley lofts a fly ball during batting practice.


Special Olympics practice

ABOVE: Another shot of Special Olympics award winners Edwin, Maria, Haley and Jonathan — this time with their masks! Congratulations again to everyone!


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