Jefferson Award winner, June 2016: Bill Semmens

JANESVILLE (WKOW) – For 30 years, Bill Semmens has been giving Special Olympics athletes a platform to succeed. It’s been life-changing, not only for the athletes, but also, the volunteers.

“He is so passionate about Special Olympics and making sure that the special needs kids and adults are really treated with the respect they need to have,” says volunteer Bill Jabs.

The track is where Bill Semmens feels at home.

He was a high school coach for more than 20 years in Janesville and for 30 years, he’s been organizing the regional and state track meets for the Special Olympics Wisconsin Summer Games.

"To see these kids, young adults, old adults, putting out 110% all the time…a kid falling at the finish line, getting up, bleeding from the elbows, going on to finish. I’ve seen high school athletes quit," says Bill.

1200 athletes of all ages qualify for more than a dozen events.

"We learn so much from them," says Jabs."I wish everybody had the opportunity to just come and watch and see what the special needs kids can really do."

Planning the meet takes months band Bill recruits more than a hundred volunteers to help.

"He keeps surrounding himself with good people that are knowledgeable about track, knowledgeable about working with kids and because of that I think the meet just improves every year."

In fact, the meet is so well run, it drew the attention of Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics and son of the world-wide organization’s founder, the late Eunice Shriver.

"Wisconsin is the best of America I think right here today," says Shriver. "This is one of the few places where year after year the same community comes out. There’s a long, deep reservoir to the ideals of Special Olympics to inclusion, to health, to fitness to the whole idea that Special Olympics athletes have something to teach us."

Lessons that Bill now learns, from his grandson.

"I’ve got a grandson who has hydrocephalus he’s gonna be here next year. It’s gonna mean a lot."

Bill has also been recruited to officiate at three World Games and has been called in to other states to help improve their events for Special Olympics athletes.



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