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‘What you get out is much more than what you put in’: Tony Reali on volunteering with Special Olympics Unified Sports

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Tony Reali (XXX)
Tony Reali

Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Reali has two words for anyone thinking about volunteering and/or participating in Special Olympics Unified Sports: “Do it!” Reali followed his own sage advice this past Tuesday night when he once again served as the public address announcer and play-by-play voice during Special Olympics D.C.’s Unified Sports Basketball East Division Championship Tournament.

In this Front Row Q&A, Reali, who also hosted the Special Olympics D.C. Summer Games opening ceremony this past May, discusses his experience volunteering for Special Olympics Unified Sports; why Unified Sports is for everybody; the meaning behind “Showtime!”; and how he brings “Vitale-ing” to his volunteer duties.

With so many worthwhile organizations to choose from, why did you choose to volunteer for Special Olympics?
I’m obviously drawn to the sports aspect of it, but more than anything, it’s how sports transforms lives, relationships and communities. The power of sports lies in its ability to instill, inspire and affect positive change – and that’s at the core of what Special Olympics does. Athletes have opportunities to discover new skills and abilities, which leads to joy and confidence on and off the playing field. This leads to a more inclusive and fulfilling life. And that fulfillment goes both ways! A community gives to an athlete and that athlete gives to a community. It’s that positive exchange of spirit and achievement that makes Special Olympics so incredible and Unified Sports so rewarding.


This was the second consecutive year you volunteered at Special Olympics D.C.’s Unified Sports Basketball Championship Tournament. How would you describe your volunteer experience?
I serve as the PA announcer but that turns into play-by-play announcer once the games begin. Everyone loves hearing their names announced so I view it as my job to do it as often – and spectacularly – as possible. I probably invent about 15 nicknames per person during a game.

When I hosted the opening ceremony of the D.C. Special Olympics last year, the Olympic Torch was in the house and it was awesome.

What’s your best memory from volunteering over the past two years?
That goes back to the nicknames. Hearing athletes call each other by their new names after a game is cool. “Showtime!” is another word you’ll hear us yelling at each other. I’ll say “Showtime” a lot while calling the game, so hearing it catch on kind of makes it our motto (#Showtime!). I’ve been known to give high fives during the game as players run by the scorer’s table. Some might consider that conduct unbecoming of a game announcer. I consider it Vitale-ing. That’s a joke, love ya Dickie V!

For those reading this interview and thinking about participating in and/or volunteering for Special Olympics Unified Sports, what would you tell them?
Do it! What you get out is much more than what you put in. And that might include a new nickname.

Unified Sports is for everybody. It’s about people with and without disabilities coming together as athletes, teammates, competitors and equals. Anyone who’s ever been part of a team knows that when you practice together, you play together, and when you play together, you grow together. Friendship and understanding follow. Sports are a great equalizer and Unified Sports breaks down stereotypes and preconceptions in a way that’s wholly positive and socially inclusive.

 (Learn more about volunteering and participating in Special Olympics Unified Sports)  

Anything else you’d like to add about Special Olympics and Special Olympics Unified Sports?
We’re told sports are about winning and losing. And they are. I mean, “You play to win the game. Hello!?!” like Herm Edwards said. But the Special Olympics and Special Olympics Unified Sports provide an additional answer. It’s right there in the motto each athlete recites before they compete: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” You play to play the game. You play to play it bravely. You play to challenge yourself and prove to others – and yourself – you can. Special Olympics shifts focus to what all athletes can do. Unified Sports emphasizes a team with people from all backgrounds and abilities. When the two are combined, a community that honors compassion and unity is achievable.

Editor’s note: ESPN is a global presenting sponsor and official media sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports. As part of this collaboration, which expands on ESPN and Disney’s 30-year commitment to Special Olympics, ESPN supports Special Olympics’ goal of registering one million Unified Sports participants, including athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities), teammates (individuals without intellectual disabilities) and coaches, by 2015.




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