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2016 Award Winners

Each year, Special Olympics Vermont awards individuals and organizations who have made a significant contribution to the movement. For 2016, we are proud to announce the following award recipients. If you'd like to nominate an athlete, volunteer, or organization in 2017, please fill out the nomination form.

Athlete of the Year

John Vincenty, Smuggler's Notch

The Athlete of the Year award goes to an athlete who truly represents sharing, skill, courage, and joy.  This person demonstrates drive for excellence through competition and good sportsmanship. John had a major breakthrough in 2016 with his attitude about being an athlete and winning. Two seasons ago, John was upset that he did not medal like he did in past Games. At the 2016 Winter Games, John had a choice: Given the challenging conditions that the winter presented, he could ski the easier course (because it was flatter) and likely guarantee a medal, or ski the intermediate course tethered and own the turns. He, on his own accord, made the latter choice. He did not win, but challenged himself and used the skills he and his coach worked so hard to achieve during the season. We are all proud of John for his choice to be a strong competitor! Congratulations to John, the 2016 Athlete of the Year. 

Volunteer of the Year

Chris Lantz, Bennington Program

Although nearly everyone within our network is by definition a volunteer, the Volunteer of the Year award recognizes outstanding service in leading by example to further the Special Olympics movement.  Chris made a personal commitment to give back to his community when took over as coordinator of the Bennington Program more than a decade ago, determined to do the hard work to support the program in every way he can. He has led a diverse group of coaches and other volunteers through the maze of paperwork, training and certifications that are part of a quality program. He is a certified coach instructor with an eye on the big picture, a focus on the smallest of details, and the skill to delegate effectively. He has also addressed the need for program sustainability. Despite a busy work schedule he finds the time to address individual athlete needs with compassion and creativity. The Bennington program is deeply enriched by his guiding hand. Congratulations to Chris Lantz, the 2016 Volunteer of the Year.

Coach of the Year

Missie Rodriguez, Upper Valley

The Coach of the Year award is give to a certified Special Olympics Vermont coach who has demonstrated a high degree of commitment to athletes through development and implementation of a quality sports training program. Missie is involved with school and local programs in Vermont and New Hampshire. She has been selected numerous times to coach at Special Olympics World Games (2003, 2009, 2013) and holds coaching certificates in basketball, swimming, and Unified Sports. About her Special Olympics experience, Missie says, "Being involved in the program has made me a better person for my family, the community, and a better educator for my students and co-workers." Missie works hard to ensure that her athletes and Unified partners understand what is expected of them and supports them in reaching their goals. Congratulations to the 2016 Coach of the Year, Missie Rodriguez. 

Most Improved Athlete of the Year

Katie Merrill, Upper Valley 

The Most Improved Athlete of the Year award is presented to an athlete who has gained skills and shown significant growth over the past year. Several years ago, Katie decided to learn how to swim. Through practice and perseverance,  Katie is now competes as a member of the Special Olympics Vermont Upper Valley swimming program. Katie is working on her breaststroke and her endurance and shows a super high degree of commitment and perseverance. Congratulations to Katie, the recipient of the 2016 Most Improved Athlete of the Year award.

Athlete Sportsmanship Award

Tristan Geoffrey, Orleans/Essex Program

The Athlete Sportsmanship Award is presented to an athlete who consistently demonstrates good sportsmanship. Tristan embodies fairness, respect, and fellowship among teammates and competitors. About Tristan, his nominator says, "He never gives up on his team, his teammates, or himself. Tristan inspires me to be a better athlete, and he always helps people when they are upset or sad. He brings joy, happiness, and love to our team." Congratulations to the 2016 Athlete Sportsmanship Award recipient, Tristan Geoffrey.

Unified Partner of the Year

Xavier Pigeon, BFA St. Albans

The Unified Partner of the Year is someone who goes beyond the playing field to promote social inclusion. This year’s recipient is dedicated to embodying the message and goals of Special Olympics and has made a priceless impact on his team. Xavier is a junior at BFA st Albans and a member of the Unified Sports team. His brother, Vinny, has an intellectual disability and Xavier always been his number 1 fan and supporter. Being an outstanding athlete himself, Xavier was pleased to see his brother finally have the opportunity to participate in athletics. In 2014, Vinny's basketball team was selected to compete in the Special Olympics USA Summer Games and Xavier attended to cheer him on. This trip was a turning point.  After USA games, Xavier joined the BFA St. Albans Unified Sports team, the Special Olympics Vermont Youth Activation Committee, and was selected to speak at the Vermont Athletic Directors Association meeting. In his presentation, Xavier spoke about how Unified Sports has impacted his entire family. Congratulations to the 2016 Unified Partner of the Year, Xavier Pigeon.

Unified Coach of the Year

Bill Mercier, BFA St. Albans

The Unified Champion Schools Coach of the Year is someone who demonstrates a high degree of commitment to building a Unified school community and the success of their athletes.  Through development and implementation of a quality sports training program, Bill has led the growth of the Special Olympics Unified Sports program at his school and local program. Twice he has been selected to coach Unified teams at the national lever: Soccer at the 2010 at the Special Olympics USA Games in Nebraska and Basketball at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. Bill goes above and beyond at every practice, competition, and conference to ensure that all who wish to be involved are included. Congratulations to the 2016 Unified Schools Coach of the Year, Bill Mercier.

Organization of the Year

Norwich University

The Organization of the Year has demonstrated a comprehensive commitment to supporting and growing Special Olympics Vermont. Norwich University has hosted tournaments at their athletic facilities for many years. In addition, student volunteers are active fundraisers and participate in competition and fundraising events throughout the year. More than ninety Norwich students volunteer for the annual Burlington Penguin Plunge, ensuring the event is safe and organized for all participants.  Congratulations to the 2016 Organization of the Year, Norwich University.

Law Enforcement Torch Run Volunteer of the Year

Deputy Jessica Ryan-Leblanc, Rutland County Sheriff's Department

The Law Enforcement Torch Run Volunteer of the year goes above and beyond to support Special Olympics Vermont as a Guardian of the Flame.  Jess joined Vermont's LETR Executive Council in 2015 and has been instrumental in increasing Torch Run participation and support in the greater Rutland area. She has participated as a medal draper, spent the night on the roof of Green Mountain Harley Davidson for the Cop On Top Event, and engaged new sponsors in her community.  Jess shows a great deal of determination and enthusiasm and is a growing leader on the LETR Executive Council. Congratulations to Deputy Jessica Ryan-LeBlanc, the 2016 Law Enforcement Torch Run Volunteer of the Year.

Law Enforcement Torch Run Hall of Fame

Officer Brianne Williamson, South Burlington Police Department

The Law Enforcement Torch Run Hall of Fame is an elite group of public service personnel who have committed significant time and talent to serving Special Olympics Vermont. Officer Williamson has been a reliable and dedicated member of Vermont's Law Enforcement Torch Run Executive Council since 2010. In addition to her many volunteer hours - including spending 24 hours on a roof! - she is always top fundraiser in the Penguin Plunge and Tip-A-Cop events. Bri is a familiar face at competitions and athletes love to high five her at awards ceremonies. She led the athletes in the final leg of the Torch Run this year, and is well known and loved in the Special Olympics Vermont community. On behalf of Special Olympics Vermont, it is an honor to induct Officer Brianne Williamson into the Special Olympics Vermont Law Enforcement Torch Run Hall of Fame.

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