DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Chicago Connections > DePaul photojournalism students capture joy, competition of Chicago’s Special Olympics events

DePaul photojournalism students capture joy, competition of Chicago’s Special Olympics events

​​A Special Olympics athlete dives towards the soccer ball while the goalie waits behind him
Kenneth dives toward the ball in trying to help his goalie, Kristian, save a goal at a February soccer tournament. Kenneth and Kristian are both 8th graders at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. (Photo by Kelly Jankowski)

Kelly Jankowski's favorite photograph of hers from the Chicago Park District Special Olympic soccer tournament at Pullman Park shows a team celebrating after scoring a goal. An athlete plays air guitar while, behind him, teammates jump and dance in a circle.

Jankowski, a senior double majoring in film/television and business administration, photographed the tournament for a class on sports photojournalism. She then shared the images with the park district. She says the event was different from the college basketball and professional games she covered.

"Special Olympics is still competitive, but they also understand the importance of community. The athletes just want to be with each other and be friends with everyone," she says. "There were a lot more moments of great sportsmanship."

DePaul students captured the joy and competition of Chicago Park District Special Olympic events during winter quarter. See more of their photos in this Newsline gallery. Assistant Professor Robin Hoecker in the College of Communication offered for students to cover track and field competitions, basketball practices and dozens of other events as an assignment for her class on sports photojournalism.

This is the first time Hoecker worked with the Chicago Park District on its Special Olympics events. Hoecker says she was inspired to pursue the partnership by the 30 for 30 ESPN documentary "Brave in the Attempt," exploring the history of Special Olympics, which was founded in Chicago. The first event was at Soldier Field in 1968.

"I'm always trying to incorporate history into my classes and add diversity elements," Hoecker says. "Often photos of Special Olympics show a narrow vision of neurodiversity and physical diversity. We wanted to get a broader picture of what that looks like. My students did a good job of that."

Eileen Guinane, the Special Olympics administrator for the Chicago Park District, says she was excited about the chance to have more photographs of athletes, since they provide a great way to capture the benefits of the program. For DePaul students, she hopes they were able to grow their understanding and empathy for the athletes Special Olympics serves.

"For the students, and really any volunteer we work with, this is an opportunity to expand their knowledge of what our athletes are capable of, the scope of the activities they participate in and the volume of athletes we work with in Chicago," Guinane says.

For Jankowski, the DePaul student, the soccer tournament was also a chance to hone her photojournalism skills. She says she had more freedom to walk around the fields and find the perfect shot.

"It allowed me to be a lot more creative and experiment, and then have cooler pictures turn out," Jankowski says. "Then I can take what I learned from the Special Olympics shoot to the Chicago Wolves game that I covered afterwards."

Hoecker plans to offer the Special Olympics events as a photo assignment again next winter quarter when she teaches the course. Jankowski encourages any student taking it to opt to cover a Special Olympics event: "Step out of your comfort zone and do those off assignments that you wouldn't expect to normally do."