About the Author
Recent posts by Hub Arkush
All too often the real giants of the sporting world work away from the playing fields, toil in the background and are never even known by the tens of millions of folks who either worship their favorite teams or participate in the neighborhood games and challenges so many of us live for.
Doug Snyder was one of those folks, perhaps the most impressive sportsman I've ever met. The lives he touched, and improved, number in the tens of thousands. Now he's gone, having passed away unexpectedly on Aug. 11, and the world is a tragically poorer place without him.
Doug absolutely loved to golf, but other than that, he had no real background in sports. He was born in Saugerties, N.Y., in 1949 and graduated in 1973 from Drake University with a B.S. degree in business administration. He began his career working first for the state of Iowa and then spending a number of years with Archer Daniels Midland Co., but it was in the summer of 1989 that he landed where he was clearly born to be, as the president and CEO of Special Olympics Illinois.
My first year in the Chicago Bears' broadcast booth was 1987, and my fellow color commentator was the great St. Louis Cardinals quarterback, Jim Hart. Sitting in the booth one day before a game, Jim asked me what kind of charity work I did, and I somewhat embarrassedly admitted there was none I did on a regular basis. He told me if I was ever looking for something to give to, I absolutely had to check out the Special Olympics.
Over the next couple of years, my wife and I sought out some opportunities to volunteer for Special Olympics in and around Chicago and enjoyed it so much that we started making it a family activity. None of our three kids is challenged in such a way that they would compete, but they loved going with us and working as designated cheerers, huggers, guides and serious fans. Then, in that summer of '89, I got a cold call from this guy named Snyder asking if he could talk to me about Special Olympics Illinois, and my entire family's lives were changed forever.
Doug was one of the smarter, more dedicated and compassionate people I've ever known. He brought the whip-smart combination of corporate facilitator and professional fundraiser to the riddle of how to make children and adults with intellectual disabilities, who are competing in games targeted to their levels of ability, not only socially acceptable but mainstream and cool. Over the next 22 years Doug would increase the SOI budget more than fourfold to over $9 million a year, increased athlete participation more than 500 percent and made it one of the more respected programs in the world with the focus always first and foremost on the athletes. He would also serve two terms as chairman of the North American Association of Special Olympics Professionals, a term on the United States Leadership Council and many years as a member of the USLC finance and development committee in support of regional and national fundraising initiatives. More than anything, Doug loved his athletes.
And we all loved Doug. He sold me right off the bat, and before I knew it, I'd served the maximum three three-year terms on the SOI board of directors, and for the last 21 years I've spent every Friday night before Father's Day in the football stadium at Illinois State University with about 10,000 of my closest friends, emceeing the opening ceremonies of the annual state games. I'd need a dozen of these columns to share everything Doug taught me, but what I remember most is the gift he gave me. Special Olympians are without question the greatest athletes in the world. They overcome odds every day that the Bradys, Jeters, Jordans and Gretzkys of the world have never even imagined, and they compete with a purity of spirit and joy found nowhere else.
The Special Olympics oath recited by every athlete before every competition is, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." The athletes, coaches, families and friends are all truly heroes, none greater than Doug Snyder. I can't imagine anyone ever replacing Doug, but we can all pay him the honor he's due by getting involved in Special Olympics today.