Meet Joe Bellini: Outstanding Coach of the Year – North America
Joe Bellini, Westchester-based Special Olympics coach at North East Special Recreation, was recently named ‘Outstanding Coach of the Year – North America.’ This incredible honor is a testament to Joe’s work over the past 29 years where he has worked with thousands of athletes and his teams have competed at every level of competition, including two World Games! Read on to learn more about Joe, his coaching style, and the upcoming NY Special Olympics Spring Games.
Westchester Family. How did you get into Special Olympics coaching?
Joe Bellini: I began working at North East Special Recreation as a recreation therapist in 1994 and part of my responsibilities was a Special Olympics training program. It was awesome and I was hooked. We now train 75 athletes in various sports. (Floor hockey, basketball, softball, track and field and bowling).
Westchester Family: What is your approach to working with Special Olympic athletes?
Joe Bellini: My approach has changed over the course of 29 years. At first, I was just there to have fun and make sure that everyone was engaged. Then I was blown away by the level of ability some of our athletes had. They could do a lot more than we were asking. Now, I try to get the most out of all our athletes. We push them to do better, but our expectations are realistic. Our motto is “good athletes, better people.”
Westchester Family: Congrats on being named the Coach of the Year – North America! Tell us more about that honor?
Joe Bellini: It is given to an active certified Special Olympics coach who has met several criteria, particularly having made a significant impact on the local Special Olympics program, the community, and most importantly the athletes.
There are more than 135,000 coaches in the North American region. (US, Canada, and the Caribbean). I was nominated for Special Olympics NYS coach of the year in 2021 and won. This made me eligible for 2022 North America coach of the year. I had no idea these awards existed and still can’t believe it. It is humbling to be recognized for something you truly love to do.
Westchester Family: Tell us more about North East Special Recreation.
Joe Bellini: North East is a community based therapeutic recreation agency. We provide recreational opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities. We serve 12 towns in the North East portion of Westchester County. We offer programming throughout the year and have a variety of experiences including Special Olympics training, bowling, day trips into the community, Saturday children’s programs and weekend overnight vacation programs. We also have a 6-week summer day camp in Briarcliff Manor and so much more. We encourage our participants to socialize in a safe environment that will allow them to get the most out of the opportunities we offer.
Westchester Family: We are excited to learn more about the NY Special Olympics Spring Games on April 22nd. What people can expect?
Joe Bellini: It is a track and Field meet that takes place on the campus of the USMA in West Point. There are hundreds of coaches and athletes from the Hudson Valley Region of NYS. From opening ceremonies to the awards presentation, it consistently gives you chills as you watch athletes give their best efforts while they compete in the events they have been training for and smile wide as they receive their medals or ribbons.
The best part of the day is seeing the way everyone works together to make the event successful. Athletes compare results, cheer each other on and catch up with old friends. Volunteers give their time to make the day so much fun for the athletes. And to top it off, families are there to encourage their athletes to do their best and have fun. Everyone is included, no one is left out. It is what Special Olympics is all about
Westchester Family: Anything else to add?
Joe Bellini: I truly love being a special Olympics coach. I have been blessed to work with an amazing group of athletes and coaches in an incredible organization. I met my wife while coaching Special Olympics and she taught me so much about how to work with athletes with ID. I had the opportunity to travel to Japan and China for World Games.
I have coached some athletes from young kids to grown adults that still compete to this day. To say it is rewarding is an understatement. It is life changing and I hope I can do it for a lot longer.
North East Westchester Special Recreation Details
63 Bradhurst Avenue
For more information, visit northeastspecialrec.org