Six athletes were inducted to the Special Olympics Kansas Hall of Fame Saturday, Nov. 11 at the first-ever Victory Gala benefiting Special Olympics Kansas. Joining the current 219 Hall of Fame members are Aubrey Cauley, Shannon Hardin, Melissa Hylton, David Payne, Rex West, and Linda Heine.
“The individuals going into the Hall of Fame have one common theme and that is they exemplify what Special Olympics is,” said John Lair, CEO and President of Special Olympics Kansas. “Being a good teammate, having a great attitude, and being role models.”
A seven-member selection committee, made of program representatives from Kansas, athletes, and Special Olympics Kansas Staff, select athletes based on their nomination sent in by their coaches, local program coordinators, or family. The nomination form includes questions about their time with Special Olympics Kansas, such as the athlete’s dedication to sport-specific training and competition or how the athlete demonstrates a significant positive impact within the Special Olympics movement, and a letter of recommendation.
“These athletes are leaders and role models for their teams and above all, they lift others up and lend a helping hand when they can,” said Krystin Guggisberg, North Central Region Director for Special Olympics Kansas. “The Awards Committee did a great job finding some of the best athletes and Special Olympics advocates from around the state to comprise our 2023 Hall of Fame class.”
Aubrey Cauley – Mosaic Pittsburg
Aubrey has been involved with Special Olympics for 30 years. He consistently maintains a competitive, yet positive attitude, and he is a bit of a local celebrity in Pittsburg for his advocacy for Special Olympics and the opportunities it has provided him with. Aubrey participates in bowling, track and basketball and spends hours practicing for each sport. He understands the importance of conditioning and training, and works with his day service staff to prepare for his events. Aubrey participates with a smile on his face, and he’s a champion for his fellow athletes and is always proud when they win medals. He manages perfectly being a competitive athlete but also a great team player. At competitions, Aubrey loves to give high fives to athletes, coaches and volunteers. Aubrey has become well known in the community for his public speaking and recognition of what Special Olympics has done to enhance his life. He actively helps recruit volunteers for events by speaking to groups in the community and at the college. Aubrey was nominated for this award by his coach, Jennifer Cardin.
Shannon Hardin – Topeka Stars/Emporia Express
Shannon Hardin hails from Emporia, Kansas and has been a Special Olympics athlete for 22 years. To the casual observer, Shannon appears athletic and naturally gifted, but in reality he spends countless hours training and practicing to improve. For nine years, Shannon has played for the Topeka Stars softball team, making appearances at six Special Olympics North America Softball Championships and winning gold at the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando in 2022. In addition to his athletic abilities, Shannon is known for his positivity and sportsmanship. He refuses to say anything negative about opponents, coaches or officials and instead, spreads positivity amongst his teammates. Outside of Special Olympics, Shannon’s love for all sports led him to work for the Emporia Parks and Recreation department, where he helps to teach and develop younger athletes and officiates games in flag football, softball and baseball. Shannon’s love for sport and his positive attitude have earned him the honor of being inducted into Athlete Hall of Fame. Shannon was nominated for this award by his coach, Allan Henderson.
Melissa Hylton – KCK Kings
Melissa has been involved in Special Olympics for 33 years. Her coaches describe her as a serious and dedicated athlete. Melissa is loved and respected by her peers. She works hard to build strong relationships with others and to be a good leader. Whether she is the first one or the last one across the finish line, Melissa stays positive and works to do better the next time. Her biggest attribute is her support and unconditional love she shows to others. She is a true leader and a role model within her team. In 2007, Melissa had the opportunity to represent Team USA at the World Games in China. Melissa still shares with others the wonderful experience she had and how it has impacted her. When not competing, Melissa works part-time, is involved with the Civitan Orchids, serving twice as club president, and providing support and encouragement to her brother, Andy, who is also a Special Olympics athlete. Melissa was nominated by her coach, Terra Morehead.
David Payne – Emporia Express
David has been involved in Special Olympics for 46 years and competes in bowling, cycling, track and basketball. David loves Special Olympics. He commits to attending all practices and is also an ambassador for the program; continually recruiting others to give Special Olympics a try. David is a true team player. Though competitive at heart, making sure everyone on his team has the chance to play and be included is most important to him. Each year, David participates in the Emporia Polar Plunge, raising money for Special Olympics Kansas as well as his own team’s breakfast and silent auction fundraisers. For his long-standing participation and love for Special Olympics, David was chosen as a Hall of Fame inductee in the 2023 class. He was nominated by his coach, Abby Lyons.
Rex West – Wichita Independents
Rex West, from Wichita and the Wichita Independents program, has been involved in Special Olympics for over 30 years. Even as an experienced athlete, Rex is always looking to improve. He loves going to practices and receiving feedback from his coaches so that he can get better with each passing season. Rex is also a great cheerleader for the Wichita Independents. He enjoys helping his teammates and lifting others up. Rex’s positive attitude and ability to make conversation with all won him Most Inspirational Athlete at the State Basketball Tournament in 2008. Rex helps his team with fundraisers throughout the year and recruits new volunteers through his church and friend groups. For his unwavering enthusiasm for Special Olympics and his many years of participation, Rex was selected for induction into the Athlete Hall of Fame. He was nominated by his coach, Kim Mudd.
Linda Heine – Topeka Shawnee
Linda was active in the Topeka Shawnee Special Olympics program for 25 years, competing in bocce, bowling, volleyball, cheerleading, softball, swimming and track and field. Always the first to events, she loved to greet her fellow teammates with a smile and a high five. She would cheer others on with unmatched enthusiasm and a desire to see everyone give their all. Linda strongly believed that Special Olympics athletes should be valued members of their communities and she was a strong supporter of Unified Sports. Having a loud voice, Linda was thrilled when given the opportunity to serve her team as lead cheerleader. She was always guiding and teaching those on her team younger than her. Linda passed away in March of 2022. She was nominated by her mother, Teresa Heine.