Jeff Mohler Talks Impact of Special Olympics of Indiana, New Role As President & CEO
Writer: Josh Brown
Photography provided by Jamie Sangar & Special Olympics of Indiana
Jeff Mohler has been running towards his goals and achieving them.
For the last 20 years, Mohler has gained a marathon of experience as a part of the Special Olympics of Indiana. On Jan. 15, he was officially named the new president and CEO for the Zionsville-based organization.
“I’ve been a part of the Special Olympics of Indiana since 1997, when I came on as a college intern,” Mohler says. “I’m very familiar with this organization. This will be a new learning curve for me, though. But I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I’m honored and humbled to be named president and CEO.”
Mohler grew up in Carmel where he attended Carmel High School and ran for the Carmel cross country team. He was a part of the 1988 state championship team led by legendary CHS coach, Chuck Koeppen, who has won more than 20 state championships at Carmel High School.
“I was a Greyhound, and I like to brag about that championship in ‘88,” Mohler says. “
It’s an experience that stuck with Mohler, and his passion for running has remained, even today. From 2009 to 2017, Mohler’s “hobby” was coaching cross country in Carmel schools, where he coached Carmel Middle School for five years and then three years at CHS.
“I just wanted to try to give back to the teams and the school that gave me so much,” he says.
Ultimately, last June, Mohler stepped down from coaching to focus on spending more time with his kids and his position at the Special Olympics of Indiana. Though his coaching days are likely over, Mohler does have his track & field official license for both the IHSAA and USA Track & Field as well.
A STRONG TRACK RECORD
Mohler has served as Vice President of Programs and Chief Operating Officer with the Special Olympics of Indiana since 2007. During that time, he has played an integral role in several of the organization’s successful programs. He was instrumental in establishing the Champions Together program, which is a partnership between Special Olympics of Indiana and the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The goal of the program has been to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to compete in high school athletics.
The program has been a booming success with about 100 schools forming teams for Unified Sports state competitions. Today, more than half of Indiana high schools participate in the program.
“When we formed this program, it really shifted the perspective because we started competing as one entity,” Mohler says. “So, instead of students at IHSAA member schools doing things for Special Olympics, they were doing things with Special Olympics athletes. That has been dynamic, because it shifted from doing things for a charity, to being a partner. Now we do Unified Sports where students with and without intellectual disabilities create a competitive team together and go out and compete against other Unified teams.”
The program started first with Unified Track & Field. This spring will be the fifth tournament for Unified Track. Special Olympics of Indiana is hopeful this fall that the IHSAA will also start Unified Flag Football.
WHAT’S ON THE CALENDAR
With spring upon us, Special Olympics of Indiana has several big events on the calendar. The organization averages about three events a day throughout the calendar year — be it games, tournaments or other competitions.
February capped off the organization’s greatest fundraising event — the Polar Plunge. The organization hosts 16 Polar Plunges throughout the year. Several Indiana schools participate in Polar Plunges each year, including Ball State University, Butler University, Purdue University, Indiana University, Indiana State University and more. The organization’s final Polar Plunge event is set for Saturday, March 3 for the Eagle Creek Polar Plunge.
As is the case for most everywhere else, March is all about basketball. The Special Olympics of Indiana will host its Women’s State Basketball Tournament March 10-11at DePauw University in Greencastle.
“We are the only Special Olympics program in the world that has a women-only basketball tournament,” Mohler says. “This is the Hoosier state, a basketball state, and that trickles down even to us at Special Olympics.”
On March 24, Special Olympics of Indiana will host its Youth State Basketball tournament at the University of Indianapolis. March 24-25 will also be the Men’s State Basketball Tournament at Ben Davis High School.
“In all, we have about 250 basketball teams around the state that will be competing for gold medals with us,” Mohler says.
The Special Olympics will also host its athletes Leadership University on Saturday, April 27-28 at Butler University.
“Butler University really comes out and helps us train our athletes to serve on boards of directors, serve as messengers for the program and give speeches,” Mohler says. “We even train some of our athletes to be coaches because they want to give back to their fellow athletes.”
The Special Olympics of Indiana’s biggest event of the year kicks off June 8-10 with its Summer Games in Terre Haute. There will be eight different sports state championships kicking off during that weekend of competition.
Now getting fully acclimated to his new position, Mohler continues to have high goals in mind for the Special Olympics of Indiana. He says that the passion in his role comes from how much he supports the cause of the organization.
“This is a life-changing organization,” Mohler says. “We celebrate gold medals, eighth place finishes and everything in between. But we really are making a difference in the lives of our athletes and our volunteers just by the intentional and impactful interactions that take place. Through that, I believe we are making a positive impact in our communities across the state.
“We are reaching more than 14,000 athletes across the state,” Mohler adds. “I’d like for us to reach that 20,000 to 25,000 mark in the next few years. I believe we will get there someday through all that we do, and there will be many more thousands of peoples’ lives changed because of the Special Olympics.”
The Special Olympics of Indiana is located at 6200 Technology Center Dr. Suite 105, right off Zionsville Rd. You can give them a call at 317-328-2000 or visit them online at soindiana.org.