A day after the Bears’ season-ending loss, Danieal Manning faced a crowd of more than 50 diehard fans in Hometown. A beaming, autograph-seeking crowd.
While the end of the season hadn’t faded from their minds, fans of the Bears and of Special Olympics in Chicago gathered to show their support for both programs Monday evening. For event host Tom Mulvey, the autograph signing to benefit Special Olympics wasn’t just about football or even fundraising.
“Something like this just isn’t done for kids anymore,” the physical therapist said. “It’s usually a much different, more hustled atmosphere at signings in big stores.”
Hustle was set aside for two hours as Manning signed T-shirts, blankets, helmets and photos, posed for pictures and accepted light-hearted critiques with a broad smile at the Southwest Highway AthleteX physical therapy location. Donations for Special Olympics were accepted during the event, and signed footballs and photos were set aside to be donated to local organizations for auctions.
Mulvey’s involvement with Special Olympics began during his childhood when he refereed basketball games at Chicago’s Marquette Park on Friday nights.
“It’s an underfunded program, and these kids compete just as hard as anyone else,” Mulvey said. “And people around here just love the Bears, win or lose. This gives our community here an opportunity to meet a player.”
Operating a business in the community only made Mulvey want to give more back to the program he had become so involved with, and his early efforts have developed into the semiannual signing events. Manning’s signing was the 12th hosted at an AthleteX facility; the walls of the Hometown location were covered with signed photos from past participants including Brian Urlacher.
Linda Sherwood, of Hometown, has participated in Special Olympics events for years, from snowshoeing to swimming. She staked out a spot near the front of the line Monday night, anxious to have her Bears T-shirt signed by Manning.
Sherwood’s friend Tim Botica said he was still excited to meet the nickel back-turned-safety despite the disappointment of the Bears missing the playoffs.
“I’m a die-hard Bears fan, win or lose,” Botica said. “I’m just glad we’re not at the end of the line like last year.”
Mark Bonen, of Evergreen Park, has come to AthleteX for therapy after back surgeries and quickly learned of Mulvey’s involvement with Special Olympics. He and his wife, Kathy, have come to the last seven signings.
“Tom’s just good people, kind-hearted,” Bonen said.
Manning’s own experiences helping with Special Olympics programs during college at Texas’ Abilene Christian University, were reminders to never take anything for granted, he said.
“This is big, people like (Mulvey) giving back,” Manning added. “These kids are willing to get out there and have a good time and we should be willing to help them out.”
Mulvey is planning another signing to be held at his Orland Park AthleteX location later this month. Details have not been finalized.