Sports Reporter Dreams of Covering the Special Olympics

By: Brian Kleemann

COD student Lily Goodfellow stands in the COD gymnasium

When Lily Goodfellow was in the third grade, she began reading books about sports and became a fan of football quarterback Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets.

Her mother, Nancy, had no idea what sparked this sudden interest, but it proved to be no phase. Goodfellow, who has Down syndrome, is an avid sports lover and athlete. She has participated in numerous sports over the years, both in her community and with Special Olympics, including swimming, track and field, soccer, basketball, and softball.

She is now taking classes at College of DuPage and writes the Athlete of the Week column for The Courier, the student newspaper. Her goal is to pursue a career in broadcast journalism and work for ESPN as a sideline reporter at the Special Olympics.

“I love sports,” the Naperville resident said. “I am an ambassador for Special Olympics and give speeches about all of the sports I compete in and how much I love Special Olympics.”

This summer, Goodfellow will work as a greeter for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field thanks to Angels for Higher, an organization that facilitates the hiring of individuals with Down syndrome to work as greeters at venues around the country.   

Her reporting career began when she was a student at Naperville Central High School. Goodfellow tried different clubs, including theater, but nothing was a good fit until she joined Hawk TV, the in-school television network. She hosted a segment called “Lily’s Inclusion Corner,” which focused on the accomplishments of her Adapted PE peers and Special Olympics athletes. The segment’s success led to sideline interviews and game updates at the high school football games, said Nancy.

“It combined her love of sports and interviewing with being in the spotlight, which Lily also enjoys,” she said.

Goodfellow even used her reporting experience when she participated in the Illinois Miss Amazing competition, which invites girls and women with disabilities to share their abilities. She highlighted segments of her work from Hawk TV and Special Olympics, and was twice named Illinois Miss Amazing Teen Queen.

I want all people to be included. I love what I do.

COD student Lily Goodfellow

When it came time for college, Goodfellow took advantage of COD Connect, a bridge program between Naperville School District 203 and COD that helps students with intellectual disabilities transition from high school to college. It was through this program that she was introduced to Jim Fuller, adviser for The Courier, and learned about the newspaper. She told her mom all about it, so Nancy reached out to Fuller and asked about opportunities.

Fuller encouraged Goodfellow to join the newspaper staff. He then contacted COD Director of Athletics and Recreation Ryan Kaiser and Sports Information Coordinator Mark Reinhiller, who were happy to identify the athletes to spotlight and provide a safe environment where Goodfellow could interview them.

“Once the plan was in place, Lily revived our Athlete of the Week feature that had been dormant during the pandemic,” Fuller said. “The articles are better than ever and she’s never missed a deadline. I truly believe with each athlete feature she takes another step toward fulfilling her Special Olympics dreams. It’s a joy having her on staff.”

In addition to her academics and work for The Courier, Goodfellow emceed the annual Special Olympics Polar Plunge in Yorkville and covered the IHSA boy’s state track finals, which had Special Olympics Illinois unified teams competing.

She also continues as an athlete, competing in the current season of track and field with Special Olympics Illinois. Through the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, she was part of a group of athletes who met with COD football players for training and conditioning. She spotlighted the entire team and the coach as Athletes of the Week.

“It was super fun,” said Goodfellow, the only female in the group. “I asked if anything surprised them by their work with people with disabilities, and they were all surprised by how strong I was!”

Her current favorite athlete is an alumnus of Naperville Central, who she would love to interview someday.

“I’m now into Cameron Brate, a former Central football player who played the last nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Bucs,” she said.

Goodfellow wants to use her career to spread awareness about the accomplishments of athletes with and without disabilities.

“I want all people to be included,” she said. “I love what I do.”

Learn more about the Digital Broadcast Journalism program at College of DuPage