Special Olympics names Juneau family ‘Family of the Year’

Special Olympics names Juneau family ‘Family of the Year’

Umbs family one of numerous honorees at Anchorage ceremony

A Juneau family was recognized for their outstanding service to the Special Olympics on Wednesday.

Chris, Michelle and their 24-year-old son CJ Umbs were named family of the year at the second annual Breakfast With Champions event at the Special Olympics Alaska Sports, Health and Wellness Center in Anchorage.

In addition to the Family of the Year Award, the organization serving more than 2,000 athletes across 11 communities in the state handed out awards for athlete of the year, coach of the year, school program of the year, sponsor of the year and volunteer of the year. The Ed Stauber Award and the Jim Balamaci Legacy Award recognize other leaders in the Special Olympics movement, which has been going strong for 50 years.

Chris and Michelle joined Special Olympics 16 years ago, when CJ was just 8 years old, and have remained active in Special Olympics ever since. Michelle has been Juneau’s swim coach for about the last 10 years, and shoulders fundraising and recruiting responsibilities for the team. Chris helps organize the Law Enforcement Torch Run, an annual fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

The proud parents have watched CJ pile up mounds of medals from years of competing in the Summer Games in Anchorage. In June, CJ won golds in the 400-meter freestyle and 200-meter backstroke along with a pair of silver medals.

“We are very humbled and grateful for the award,” Michelle said by phone on Wednesday.

Special Olympics Alaska President/CEO Nicolle Egan was on hand at the ceremony. Egan said families — and more generally, volunteers — are the drivers behind practically everything the organization does. She said family members sometimes remain active in Special Olympics for decades because their son or daughter is never too old to compete.

Egan called the Umbs family “a great representation of all the families across the state that make this program happen.”

In smaller communities like Juneau and Ketchikan the entire Special Olympics program is volunteer-run, Egan said. Families take on, “coaching, fundraising, recruiting for new people, everything,” Egan said.

“The local program is where it’s at, that is where all the work is being done,” she said. “That’s the most important component of Special Olympics is the local program.”

Other notable award winners include Anchorage’s Joe Pichler and Darci Owens, the co-athletes of the year.

Pichler, now in his late 50s, has “probably done every sport that we’ve ever offered” and has served as a floor hockey official, Egan said. Owens is an advocate for the health benefits of the Special Olympics and a floor hockey player.

Hal Lloyd earned coach of the year honors. The longtime volunteer coaches Anchorage powerlifting athletes. As the owner of Southside Strength & Fitness in Anchorage, Lloyd provides a safe and welcoming environment in which Special Olympics athletes can train, Egan said.

The Jim Balamaci Legacy award was given to former Sen. Ted Stevens’ family and the Ted Stevens Foundation. Egan said Balamaci, the former president of Alaska’s Special Olympics who passed away earlier this year, worked hand-in-hand with Stevens to promote the organization.

“His award is truly about having a vision and making things happen in your state, making things happen for individuals,” Egan said. “He and Sen. Stevens were good friends. We like to say, like Sen. Stevens shaped who Alaska is today, Jim helped shape who Special Olympics Alaska is today and who our athletes are. They both have put us in a position to really be able to move things forward and just keep getting more people involved.”

President/CEO Award Recipients

Athletes of the Year: Darci Owens and Joe Pichler

Coach of the Year: Hal Lloyd

Family of the Year: Umbs family

School Program Partner of the Year: Alaska Department of Education and Early Development

Sponsors of the Year: Matson and Alaska Airlines

Volunteer of the Year: Jack Eppley

Ed Stauber Award: Alaska Law Enforcement Torch Run

Jim Balamaci Legacy Award: Sen. Ted Stevens family and foundation


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.


More in Sports

Cailin Bracken plays lacrosse with the Vanderbilt team on March 16, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. When she became overwhelmed by college life, especially when she had to isolate upon testing positive for COVID-19 after just a few days on campus, she decided to leave the team. Bracken wrote an open letter to college sports, calling on coaches and administrators to become more cognizant of the challenges athletes face in navigating not only their competitive side, but also their social and academic responsibilities. (Josh Rehders/Vanderbilt University)
College athletes push mental health to the forefront

Universities are starting to pay closer attention to the mental health of their athletes.

Courtesy photo / JDHS soccer 
The JDHS boys soccer team overcame a 2-0 lead against TMHS to win the state title, including three goals by a freshman player.
JDHS boys coach talks 4-2 championship comeback win

Things were looking dire for the eventual winners.

Courtesy photo / Myra Pugh 
The JDHS girls soccer team swept to victory in the DII state championship on Saturday without a single goal being scored against them in the tournament.
JDHS teams sweep state soccer championships

No one could stand before the Crimson Bears.

JDHS players and fans recognized seniors Tias Carney, Sam Marnon, Callan Smith, Zayden Schijvens, Samuel Holst, Andre Peirovi, Owen Costello, Ahmed Mezel, Solomon Alper, Will Rehfeldt and Ben Goldstein during senior night on May 22, 2022. They’ll play their final high school games together this week at the state tournament in Anchorage. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Juneau soccer teams celebrate their seniors

For many, their final high school games come this week at the state tournament.

Porter Nelson, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, signed his letter of intent to play baseball for Citrus College, a community college located in Glendora, California, on May 24, 2022. “I was pretty stoked. I didn’t think they were going to answer my email,” said Nelson about the college extending the offer. “They’re the dream for me.” Nelson plays center fielder, and intends to study kinesiology, he said. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
JDHS baseball player signs for California college

Porter Nelson, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, signed his… Continue reading

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Coaches’ Corner: JDHS boys basketball

Season-end awards announced.

Blake Plummer, left, and Sophia Pugh, both JDHS girls soccer players, sign their letters of intent to play for Peninsula College and the Pratt Institute respectively on May 9, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
JDHS soccer players sign for college teams on opposite coasts

The two have played together for years, playing key roles for JDHS.

A ball streaks down the lane at an unbroken formation of pins at Pinz, Juneau’s bowling alley, on May 5, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Let the good times roll: Management brings new life to an old bowling alley

“If you’re throwing a ball down a lane and having a good time, you’re bowling.”