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Flame lights the way to Special Olympics

Morris police among law enforcers who carry the torch for event

It wasn’t a normal Thursday when law enforcement lined the corner of Liberty and Waverly streets on June 8 as they participated in the last leg of the Torch Run this past week.

Hundreds of communities from all over the state participated in the annual torch run for Special Olympics; Morris continued to show support as its involvement in this event now has spanned more than a decade.

About 23 legs (routes) across the state began on different dates and kickoff times.

About 41 miles away, the leg leader came from the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department to Grundy County for Leg 18 of the run.

Livingston County Sheriff Chad Gragert brought the flame to Grundy County on June 8 as the leg leader.

“It’s all about the summer games,” Gragert said. “It can’t be explained what it means to participate. But when you look in the eyes of the athletes, you know.”

The run traveled from Waverly Street in Morris through Mazon to Dwight and on to Pontiac.

From there, the torch was brought to Normal for the final leg on June 9, before the opening ceremonies.

The Morris Police Department had six officers participate in the in the run, Morris Officer Jessica Smith said. The theme for this year’s run was ‘Guardians of the Flame,’ which was a nod to the event’s connection with law enforcement.

“The Guardians represent law enforcement as their duty to protect the public, whereas the flame symbolizes the fire within all of us,” Smith said.

Not only was Smith a participant for the Torch Run, but she also has a personal connection to Special Olympics, as she has watched her sister participate. Smith’s sister, Beth, participated in Special Olympics in bocce ball and the softball throw events in previous years.

Running with the Morris officers were officers from the Illinois Department of Corrections, Grundy County Sheriff’s Department, and four athletes who participated in the Special Olympics summer games.

Officers from all branches of law enforcement began in Quincy, Rock Island, and even at the state border with Wisconsin, where they came together for the opening of the Special Olympic games.

This year a total of 45 athletes from Special Connections traveled to the summer Special Olympics representing Morris in three events: swimming, bocce ball and track.

Chris Kirsch, family ambassador for Special Olympics of Illinois, said the torch is important for the Special Olympics movement. Her daughter, Rikki, participates not only as the athlete liaison for the Law Enforcement Torch Run but also as a bike rider on the run.

“The Torch is a symbol for awareness of our athletes,” Kirsch said.

In all, over 3,000 officers from all branches of law enforcement will cover more than 1,500 miles in the annual torch run. Leg 1 began in Belvidere before heading to Normal. It’s the evening of June 9, runners from all of the legs converged at Illinois State’s Hancock Stadium, where they handed their flames to the athletes to light the cauldron for the opening of the games.

More than 4,100 athletes from across the state participated in 18 Olympic events over three days, Special Olympics spokesperson Alexandra McMillin said.

Special Connections of Grundy County, a local organization founded to help provide services to people with disabilities, also participated in the Torch Run for the fourth year, said Jennifer Price, board president and a founding member of Special Connections.

“We are proud that the Morris Police Department includes Special Connections in their fundraising efforts,” Price said.

Money for Special Olympics is raised throughout the year in events such as Morris’ annual teachers vs. cops basketball game (Faculty vs. Fuzz) held at Morris High School, T-shirt sales for the torch run, a 5K fun run in October, and the annual Cop on a Rooftop fundraiser held at the Morris Dunkin, Donuts, 197 E. Route 6.

The Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run raised more than $4 million in 2016, McMillan said.

Anyone interested in participating in the 2018 Law Enforcement Torch Run can contact Special Connections by calling 815-545-3397 or email

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