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Special Olympics | 50th Anniversary
In joyful opening ceremony at SIU Carbondale, Special Olympics celebrates 50th anniversary

MAKANDA — In a high-spirited opening ceremony on Friday, Special Olympics Illinois kicked off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics right where it all began: in the Southern Illinois woods at Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

The celebration drew several political dignitaries, including Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner; State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton; State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro; and State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg. A number of Southern Illinois University administrators, including SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno and Trustee Phil Gilbert, were also in attendance.



The focus of the ceremony was a Southern Illinois resident who helped give rise to both Touch of Nature and the Special Olympics: the late Dr. William H. Freeberg, who established the university’s innovative outdoor laboratory under the direction of former SIU President Delyte Morris.

His granddaughter, Brittany Freeberg, called him “a sower of seeds.”

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Brittany Freeberg, granddaughter of William Freeberg, speaks during the opening ceremonies for the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Special Olympics at Touch of Nature on Friday morning. William Freeberg was one of the founders of the Special Olympics.

“The first seed Bill Freeberg sowed was the revolutionary idea that people with special needs could leave behind the stigma and confinement of homes and institutions and come to a safe and accepting place to socialize, develop skills, learn about nature and, many times, just have fun for the first time in their lives,” Brittany Freeberg said.

In the early 1950s, William Freeberg launched camp programs for people with physical and developmental disabilities.

“For many campers, it was the first time in their lives they had been allowed to socialize with anyone outside of their family. For many special-needs campers, it was the first time they had gone canoeing, attended a dance, sat at a campfire, sang songs and fallen in puppy-love with someone their own age,” Brittany Freeberg said.

A decade later, Eunice Kennedy Shriver visited the camp and was “blown away,” Brittany Freeberg said. With Shriver’s help, William Freeberg started conducting workshops for recreation professionals from around the country on techniques for working with people with disabilities.

Anne McGlone Burke, who now serves as a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court, developed the idea of a track meet for people with disabilities after observing one of those workshops, and on July 20, 1968, the first Special Olympics event was held at Soldier Field in Chicago.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke speaks during opening ceremonies for 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of Special Olympics on Friday morning at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

Burke said being at Touch of Nature evokes “so many wonderful memories” for her.

“I consider it a sacred space, where the human spirit shines eternal,” Burke said.

She called William Freeberg “a man of great sense and clarity and warmth.”

“Special Olympics teaches all of us that amid life’s greatest challenges that weigh us down — be it disabilities, infirmities or ordinary stress of daily living — there is always room to aspire, to realize our potential, our dreams and to grow,” Burke said.

Ann Conner participates in Camp Little Giant, a program established by William Freeberg for children and adults with disabilities. She started attending the camp when she was in high school.

“(The counselors) really make me feel like I’m just like anybody else and I can do what anybody else can do, I just might have to do it a different way, and that’s OK,” Conner said.

Rauner said Illinois is “the greatest state in the greatest nation on Earth” because of its people, and that it was fitting that the Special Olympics were created in the state.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks during opening ceremonies for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Special Olympics on Friday morning at the Touch of Nature Environmental.

“Every child, every young person, is a child of God. Every person is a child of God. Every person has unique abilities, every person has unique needs. Every person deserves to achieve their fullest potential as a human being, and that’s what the Special Olympics is all about. Today is a great day to celebrate 50 years of wonderful success creating opportunity and a better life for every young person, regardless of where they live, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of their need, every person achieving their fullest potential,” Rauner said.

Special Olympics Illinois board member John Penn, vice president and Midwest regional manager of LiUNA, said he first started participating in the organization as a “hugger” in a 100-yard dash in a county meet 40 years ago. One of the athletes came across the line, leaped into Penn’s arms and said he loved him.

“I never missed another meet,” Penn said.

J.D. Tanner, Touch of Nature’s director, said a new memorial plaza will be built at the center to honor its National Park Service designation and William Freeberg.

He also unveiled the new name of Sledgefoot Lounge: Burke Lounge.

“Sledgefoot Lounge has done us well for a long time, but with this event, I think it’s time to honor Justice Burke,” Tanner said.

Special Olympics athlete John Henley said it was time to make the Special Olympics nation a model for the world.

“For 50 years, Special Olympics heroes have fought to give us a place to be special. Now the game is changing. We have enough athletes to start a small nation, and we want to fight with you, not just for sports, but for inclusion,” Henley said.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

The Special Olympics torch arrives with the help of local law enforcement officials and Special Olympic athletes as part of opening ceremonies for the 50th anniversary celebration of Special Olympics on Friday morning at Touch of Nature.

Speaking with reporters after the ceremony, Rauner said he looks forward to ensuring the state has balanced budgets and a growing economy so it has the resources to support residents with special needs.

“We need to be as competitive as we need to be so we can be as compassionate as we want to be,” Rauner said.

After a torch-lighting ceremony, the celebration was followed by Change the Game Day, where participants could play a variety of Olympics-style games and Touch of Nature activities, and a gala later that evening.

top story
Groups encourage action to kick off Child Abuse Prevention Month

CARTERVILLE — A kickoff for Child Abuse Prevention Month, hosted by The Poshard Foundation for Abused Children, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois and Illinois Department of Children and Family Services on Friday at John A. Logan College, had two recurring themes: First, every child deserves to have a great childhood free of abuse. And, everyone needs get involved in preventing abuse.

Guest speakers included Ronald K. House, president of John A. Logan College; Jo Poshard, executive director of The Poshard Foundation for Abused Children; Brittney Hale, prevention specialist with Prevent Child Abuse Illinois; Lori Gray, Southern Region Administrator for Illinois Department of Children and Family Services; Dr. Matt Buckman, Egyptian Health Department; and Brandon Zanotti, Williamson County State’s Attorney.

Jo Poshard welcomed those who attended and shared some statistics. Since Jan. 1, six counties in Southern Illinois (Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Saline, Union and Williamson counties) have seen 1,500 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect. These numbers do not include the number of cases being investigated, nor those where abuse is suspected but not proven.

“We can all agree that Southern Illinois can do better for our children,” Jo Poshard said.

House read a proclamation from Gov. Bruce Rauner making April Child Abuse Prevention Month. In the proclamation, Gov. Rauner encouraged all Illinoisans to respond to the call of “how will you help” by supporting child abuse prevention programs and reporting suspected cases of abuse to the Illinois Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-2873.

Brittany Hale of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois said it is time to take the discussion of preventing child abuse one step further, and get involved.

“All children deserve great childhoods, and we all have a role to play in that,” Hale said.

Buckman spoke about the effects of childhood trauma. He said 70 percent of children experience a traumatic event, with most experiencing six or seven events. Southern Illinois has made great strides in treatment.

“Many organizations have come together to train and offer the best treatment in the country,” Buckman said.

Gray also encouraged all citizens to respond to the call to action, saying DCFS has the job of investigating and triaging the cases reported. But, DCFS employees cannot be everywhere, to they need the eyes and ears of the public.

She also spoke about the children in foster care in Illinois. The state has 16,373 foster children, and 42 percent of them are in their first three years of life. Children age 3 or younger cannot help themselves. They are asking us to get it right.

She talked about other issues that play into abuse, like lack of education and the opioid epidemic.

Gray also talked to the audience about co-sleeping.

“In a little over three months, we’ve had three co-sleeping deaths,” Gray said, adding that the deaths had nothing to do drug or alcohol abuse. “I think it is something everyone needs to be aware of.”

Williamson County State’s Attorney Brandon Zanotti also encouraged everyone to be active in preventing abuse, even it is just talking about the issue.

He thanked those who work with organizations across Southern Ilinois.

“Thank you for your work to help children. Keep doing that,” Zanotti said.  “A lot of us do thankless work, but none more than DCFS.”

He praised the work of CASA and child advocacy centers, saying it is so important to have the view of the child represented in court.

The event includes a resource fair with information provided by area agencies highlighting programs and resources for area families.

Perry Jackson Child Advocacy Center advertised its Family Fun Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at Perry County Fairgrounds in Pinckneyville. The event will include food and drinks, door prizes and lots of activities for families.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

SIU pitcher Michael Baird (31) delivers a pitch in the second inning against Valparaiso at Itchy Jones Stadium on Friday in Carbondale.

Saline County
Saline County employees file grievance against county clerk over firing

HARRISBURG — On Thursday afternoon, two employees working in Saline County Clerk’s office were surprised when County Clerk Kim Buchanan fired them. Julie Dunn has worked in the office nearly 28 years and is the Democratic candidate for Saline County Clerk. Kathy Cummins has worked in the office 15 years.

At about 3:20 p.m. Thursday, Buchanan asked Dunn to step into the vault. She then asked for Dunn’s key fob and door keys. Dunn asked Buchanan why she was being let go, but Buchanan did not answer at first. Finally, she told Dunn she was not prepared to answer that question.

Dunn went to retrieve her keys and personal belongings, unaware that Cummins, a strong supporter of Dunn’s campaign, also was being fired. Dunn handed the keys to Buchanan and again asked why.

“I am not prepared to answer,” Buchanan again replied.

Dunn and Cummins were the last two Democrats working in the office. Buchanan was elected as a Republican.

Judy Simspon, field representative for Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 773, received a call Thursday from a union steward in Saline County Courthouse saying the women had been fired.

“I spoke to the women yesterday. The county clerk told each of them to gather their things and leave, and asked for their keys,” Simpson said.

She added that neither woman had any disciplinary actions taken against them prior to Thursday. Article 25 of their collective bargaining agreement or contract spells out specific steps that must be taken when disciplining and discharging employees.

The contract briefly says the employee should receive an oral reprimand, written reprimand, suspension, then be discharged.

An employer may bypass one or more of these steps if it is deemed to be appropriate for the situation after considering the employee’s conduct and its ramifications, as well as the employee’s work record and job performance.

The article also requires written notice of a meeting that could result in discharge and notification in writing of any disciplinary action to be taken. It also states that the employee may include a union representative in the meeting.

On Friday, Simpson filed a grievance on behalf of the women, citing Article 25 of the collecting bargaining agreement.

“That is our first step. I do not anticipate this being a smooth grievance to have to resolve, having worked with the county clerk before,” Simpson said. “We have had problems with Kim Buchanan showing hostility towards these women for years. The first disciplinary action and she fires them and refuses to tell them what they are being fired for.”

Simpson said their fellow employees came out of their offices to show support, and several county board members and others also came to the courthouse in a show of support. One of those was Saline County Commissioner Roger Craig, who is the Republican candidate for Saline County Clerk.

“I wanted to be there today. I have a really good working relationship with Judy who is the union representative. I have known Kathy Cummins all my life, and I am friends with Julie’s husband and his family,” Craig said. “I don’t want to lose good help.”

He said both women are primary support of their families and both have husbands who are ill. He hates seeing them lose their health insurance. He said he wants them back in the clerk’s office if he is elected in November.

Craig said the county board will have a special meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. One of the items on the agenda will be discussing the grievance filed by the Cummins and Dunn. Craig hopes the board can find other positions for the women within the county offices.

“This is not an issue of Democrat or Republican; it is an issue of right or wrong,” Simpson said.



Trump, China escalate trade dispute as markets tumble

WASHINGTON — Unwilling to yield, President Donald Trump and China's government escalated their trade clash Friday, with Beijing vowing to "counterattack with great strength" if Trump follows through on threats to impose tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods.

Trump made his out-of-the-blue move when China threatened to retaliate for the first round of tariffs planned by the United States. But for someone who has long fashioned himself as a master negotiator, Trump left it unclear whether he was bluffing or willing to enter a protracted trade war pitting the world's two biggest economies against each other, with steep consequences for consumers, businesses and an already shaken stock market.

"They aren't going to bully him into backing down," said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser who is now a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He said the Chinese "are going to have to make concessions — period."

The White House sent mixed signals on Friday as financial markets slid from investor concern about a significant trade fight. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC he was "cautiously optimistic" that the U.S. and China could reach an agreement before any tariffs are implemented but added, "there is the potential of a trade war."

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters the U.S. was "not in a trade war," adding, "China is the problem. Blame China, not Trump."

Trump's latest proposal intensified what was already shaping up to be the biggest trade battle for more than a half century. The U.S. bought more than $500 billion in goods from China last year and now is planning or considering penalties on some $150 billion of those imports. The U.S. sold about $130 billion in goods to China in 2017 and faces a potentially devastating hit to its market there if China responds in kind.

Global financial markets have fallen sharply as the world's two biggest economies squared off — the Dow Jones industrial average sank 572 points Friday.

Trump told advisers Thursday he was unhappy with China's decision to tax $50 billion in American products, including soybeans and small aircraft, in response to a U.S. move this week to impose tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods.

Rather than waiting weeks for the U.S. tariffs to be implemented, Trump backed a plan by Robert Lighthizer, his trade representative, and was encouraged by Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, to seek the enhanced tariffs, upping the ante.

White House chief of staff John Kelly and Mnuchin concurred with the move, as did Kudlow, who traveled with the president to West Virginia.

China said negotiations were impossible under the circumstances but Trump officials said the president and his team remained in contact with President Xi Jinping and expressed hope to him of resolving the dispute through talks. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two sides remained in "routine contact."

In Beijing, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said China doesn't want a trade war — but isn't afraid to fight one.

"If the U.S. side announces the list of products for $100 billion in tariffs, the Chinese side has fully prepared and will without hesitation counterattack with great strength," spokesman Gao Feng said. He gave no indication what measures Beijing might take.

Trump has also pushed for a crackdown on China's theft of U.S. intellectual property, and he criticized the World Trade Organization, an arbiter of trade disputes, in a tweet Friday for allegedly favoring China. Trump asserted the WTO gives the Asian superpower "tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S."

U.S. officials have played down the threat of a broader trade dispute, saying a negotiated outcome is still possible. But economists warn that the tit-for-tat moves bear the hallmarks of a classic trade rift that could keep growing. Worry is intensifying among Republicans, who traditionally have favored liberalized trade.

"The administration needs to be thinking about the unintended consequences and what are those ripple effects, those domino effects, and what are the retaliatory actions that are likely to be taken," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, in an interview with KDLT-TV in Sioux Falls.

The standoff over the trade penalties began last month when the U.S. slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. China countered by announcing tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. products. The next day, the United States proposed the $50 billion in duties on Chinese imports, and Beijing lashed back within hours with a threat of further tariffs of its own.

Further escalation could be in the offing. The U.S. Treasury is working on plans to restrict Chinese technology investments in the United States. And there's talk that the U.S. could also put limits on visas for Chinese who want to visit or study in this country.

Kudlow told reporters the U.S. may provide a list of suggestions to China "as to what we would like to have come out of this," and those issues were under discussion.