By Holly Claytor
After 36 years, 22 of them at the helm, Special Olympics Virginia President Rick Jeffrey is giving up his whistle — though he was never really a type of whistle.
Most would describe him as a trainer; in fact, many address him that way on a day-to-day basis. But it’s more than just a term given to the head of a statewide sports organization, because it’s about, well, sports. It’s because he really is.
Good coaches listen. Good coaches learn. Good coaches love it. And since stepping onto the Special Olympics playground on a hot August day in 1986, Rick Jeffrey has been all of that – and more.
After 14 years of service in several roles of increasing responsibility within the organization, Rick took on the role of President in 2000 and if you’re looking for a good sports analogy (something Rick also loved) he hit the spot. circuit. Or maybe since he’s ready to swing his club into retirement, one hole in one.
Under his leadership, the financial strength of the organization has been unmatched, with a current reserve fund of over $4.7 million and an endowment of $1.7 million that was created during his tenure to support the strategic program initiatives. He helped the program grow and diversify its fundraising channels, to include large-scale events such as Polar Plunge and Plane Pull, as well as individual and leadership giving, of which a few Special Olympics programs are currently champions. .
Prior to the pandemic, Special Olympics Virginia had the most Unified Champion Schools of any Special Olympics program in the country – and that number continues to rebound as restrictions are lifted. He restructured the team and created positions that allowed staff to develop, grow and support new programs such as Healthy Athletes, Young Athletes and ongoing fitness opportunities.
A sports lover through and through, he has continually increased the number of athletic offerings and competitive experiences in Virginia. He launched the nation’s first high performance tournament, the Special Olympics Virginia Tennis Xperience, an annual invitation to top Special Olympics tennis athletes across the United States and, in some years, even in other countries. He has held numerous positions on national and regional committees, including Chairman of the Sports Committee of the United States Leadership Council (USLC).
Rick, also the longest serving President of Special Olympics Virginia, has strengthened the Board of Directors to include leaders from across the state who provide financial support as well as important and valuable advice on how to grow and sustain the organization not only for the future, but for unique events like the COVID pandemic. He changed the culture of the program, enabling staff to be innovative, creative and collaborative, yet still focused on organizational goals.
It’s about sports. And it’s not about sports at all.
Beyond the business, however, Rick notes that his greatest accomplishment is directing the organization’s vision through the lens of sports. At first, he said, while important, Special Olympics was more of a social experience: an opportunity for families and people with developmental disabilities to come together and be part of a community.
This community remains one of the core strengths of Special Olympics, but for Rick it was also about how sport changes athletes – and how it changes us.
“Fundamentally, Special Olympics is about what is possible. We have shown people, athletes, parents, families and even ourselves what is possible if they choose to see it. I’m not sure there’s a more amazing job than that.
Great game, coach.
Holly Claytor is vice president of development and communications for Special Olympics Virginia. His email address is [email protected]