INDIANAPOLIS (Purdue Sports) — The 500 Festival, a nonprofit organization providing life-enriching events and programs that celebrate the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500, today announced that Abby Abel and Mitch Bonar have been named Grand Marshals of the 2018 IPL 500 Festival Parade.
The 62nd IPL 500 Festival Parade will take place on Saturday, May 26 in downtown Indianapolis. Tying into the theme for this year's Parade, Illuminate. Innovate. Indianapolis., the selection of this year's honorees will illuminate the good work being done by Indiana high school and college students every day in communities around the state as well as tell the story of the innovation happening from within Indiana, a state that is leading the field of unified sports.
"To say Abby is self-sacrificing is an understatement," said Purdue University Vice President - Director of Athletics Mike Bobinski. "Beyond her role as a member of our women's basketball team, in which she works tirelessly every day to make her teammates better, Abby has been a staunch advocate for Special Olympics in Indiana for the past five years. Her ambition to make Play Unified Basketball a club sport at Purdue and across the Big Ten Conference is impressive. For Abby and Mitch Bonar to be selected as grand marshals of the 500 Festival Parade is a tremendous honor and well-deserved recognition of their efforts."
Abby Abel, a 2015 Carmel High School graduate, and Mitch Bonar, a 2015 Noblesville High School graduate, are best friends who met in high school. From the outside, both led very different lives in high school. Abel was a star player on Carmel High School's women's basketball team. Bonar, who was born with cerebral palsy, loved sports but had difficulty fitting in on the field. Both of their lives were changed when they joined their school's Unified Track and Field team, which joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to compete. Unified sports are offered to Indiana schools through Champions Together, a partnership between Special Olympics Indiana and the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA). Champions Together promotes servant leadership among student athletes while changing their lives as well as the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.
Drawing inspiration from their profound experience in high school, Abby and Mitch set out to create a world without the stigma and perception against people with intellectual disabilities. They collaborated to develop a program to help athletes and friends to stay connected after high school.
Today, Abby Abel is a junior at Purdue University where she plays on the Women's basketball team. She organizes the Play Unified Basketball Tournament, held at Purdue University. Now in its third year, this 4-on-4 basketball tourney pairs Special Olympics athletes from Tippecanoe County with Purdue students and student athletes who all participate as a team. Mitch Bonar is thriving as a student at Ivy Tech. He travels the state as part of the Champions Together program, speaking to thousands of Indiana high school students about the importance of unified sports and inspiring audiences with his story of overcoming obstacles. They have received statewide and national recognition for their work to eliminate stigma and perception against people with intellectual disabilities. Their involvement has taken them to the Special Olympics North American Conference and to the Special Olympics World Games.
To honor the duo's extraordinary work, Abby and Mitch have been named Grand Marshals of the 62nd IPL 500 Festival Parade. 500 Festival officials, in concert with partners from IPL, the IHSAA, Special Olympics Indiana and Purdue University surprised Abby and Mitch by announcing their selection during the 3rd Annual Play Unified Basketball Tournament, held at Purdue University.
"Abby Abel and Mitch Bonar are true catalysts for social change. Their tireless work to ignite change within our community is inspirational. Their ability to use sports to give a voice to everyone is remarkable and the work that they have done and continue to do will change the world. We can't wait to join the crowd of 300,000 to celebrate their friendship and their commitment to making a difference," said Bob Bryant, president and CEO of the 500 Festival. "Their legacy and impact will be felt for countless years to come."