40-year volunteer Steve Thompson serves as Special Olympics grand marshal
Forty years ago, Steve Thompson began volunteering for the Special Olympics Michigan Summer Games as a 27-year-old Central Michigan University employee. He hasn’t stopped since.
To honor his service, SOMI has named Thompson, CMU's former Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates director and associate professor, Grand Marshal for the 2016 summer games.
As a graduate student and martial arts instructor at Indiana University in 1971, Thompson's academic work focused on psychology and human movement. In 1975, he volunteered with SOMI for the first time at the International Games at CMU.
Thompson said he didn't have prior experience working with people with intellectual disabilities, but he enjoyed the athletes immensely and without hesitation.
"I was laughing and joking with them — just interacting with them. It was absolutely unbelievable," Thompson said "For any (volunteers) that joined, they either got hooked immediately, or it wasn’t for them."
Forty years later, he is still volunteering — even after retiring from CMU in July 2015.
"The thing that always centered me was working with Special Olympics," Thompson said. "Because for three or four days, you see results. You see people working together for a common goal."
As grand marshal, Thompson will lead SOMI's opening ceremony parade into Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Thursday.
SOMI created the grand marshal title in 2012 to honor those who have been involved with the program for an extended period of time.
Ann Guzdizal, SOMI chief program officer, said Thompson was selected to mark his four decades of service.
"We were looking at all the years of services that people had put in and we wanted a way to honor them," she said. "Grand marshal was what we came up with."
Honored to have been chosen, Thompson said the focus of the summer games is always the athletes and their families. He said he respects that to the highest level and will work to make sure everyone is happy and having fun.
"This event is all about the kids and adults who compete," he said. "The athletes are treated to the absolute best experience we can give them and to challenge them (athletically). I feel very fortunate to be able to do that."
Thompson has devoted his work to helping victims of sexual assault and educating people about sexual aggression. He has been featured on "Good Morning America," Fox News and has been a consultant for police and investigators handling sexual misconduct cases.
Having given more than 2,000 lectures across the country, Thompson has written a number of booking, including "No Zebras, No Excuses, Confronting the Realities of Sexual Aggression."
The opening ceremony and parade begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The games begin Thursday morning and end on Saturday.