In the conference room of the Special Olympics Rhode Island (SORI) office hang two photos of Henry Moretti, one with former President George W. Bush, and another with former President Bill Clinton.
Special Olympics CEO Dennis DeJesus looks around the room for another famous photo, this one of Moretti with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Later that afternoon, Moretti’s face will pop up again, this time on the “Special Olympics Rhode Island Magazine” half-hour television show on Cox Sports Television.
“Everyone knows Henry, bottom line. He is a great ambassador for Special Olympics,” DeJesus said. “I can go out and do a solicitation visit and really pour it out from my heart, but when an athlete comes out on one of those visits and speaks to how Special Olympics has impacted them, it just melts the person’s heart. None of our success we achieve – our athletes have achieved that success.”
As a Global Messenger, Moretti has traveled around the country, and the world, promoting Special Olympics and sharing how their programs have impacted him.
On Feb. 9, Special Olympics will return the favor, inducting Moretti into their first ever Hall of Fame at an induction ceremony and dinner at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
“I was so happy and shocked,” Moretti said.
Also being inducted is Special Olympian Maggie Sebastian from Wakefield, coach Lisa McKay from SORI North Kingstown, the Giguere and Turgeon families and financial contributors Bill and Katie Almon, Dunkin’ Donuts, Saul Fern and Michael Goldberger.
When the SORI Board of Directors sat down to identify the athletes that best embody their mission, Moretti was the unanimous choice.
“Henry is a tremendous athlete and a really good person. He’s just a tremendous role model for all the athletes in our program,” DeJesus said.
DeJesus might be a little biased. When he joined the SORI Board of Directors 10 years ago, Moretti made the transition easier. On his first day, DeJesus picked Moretti up (at his request), “so he could introduce me to everyone.”
Now 52 years old, Moretti has been an Olympian since 1972, when Special Olympics was just a one-day event at Cranston Stadium. Moretti, also a Cranston resident, recalls the parade down Park Avenue to the stadium.
Now, Special Olympics events take place year-round, and Moretti has tried just about every sport there is. He currently competes in soccer, golf, sailing and softball, and has three boxes filled with medals at home. He is a member of the Italian Hall of Fame and the High School Hall of Fame as well.
“I enjoy playing sports. I look forward to doing it for many more years,” he said.
He’s never one to get nervous on the field, though, as he comes from a long line of competitors.
“Henry comes from a family of really great athletes and he just followed their lead,” DeJesus said. “When Henry Moretti gets on the athletic field, he’s there to win. He is focused.”
Henry says he learned how to conduct himself as part of a team by watching his siblings. Henry’s mother, Barbara, raised seven children on her own, with Henry as the oldest child.
“Barbara should go in to the Hall of Fame right next to Henry,” DeJesus said, adding that his sister Rachel is also a big help in driving Moretti to SORI events and practices, and supporting his work with the organization.
“I appreciate everything they do. Without my mother and my sister, I don’t know where I’d be,” Moretti said.
During the day, he maintains a full-time job with the City of Cranston’s Highway Department. After work, he practices with his various athletic teams, helps out at the SORI new office in Smithfield or tapes his cable show.
“Special Olympics Rhode Island Magazine” began in 1994 under the direction of former Cranston Herald sports editor Deb Weinreich. Moretti was one of the original hosts, and he says it would take three hours to tape a half-hour segment. Now, there are hardly any bloopers.
“I’ve interviewed almost everyone in Rhode Island who’s been involved in sports,” he said.
Moretti has interviewed the Farrelly brothers, the Boston Celtics, PC basketball coach Ed Cooley, who Barbara Moretti used to drive home from practice for the Edgewood Eagles.
Moretti has traveled to Utah, Minnesota, North Carolina, Austria, Japan and Ireland, and more, both as a Global Messenger and as an athlete.
“Every place I went was good. Ireland stands out as one of my favorites,” he said.
“Everywhere he goes, Henry makes friends,” DeJesus added.
Moretti stays in touch with many of his fellow Olympians from other parts of the world. He is also close with many athletes from Project Unify, which supports sports teams that include Special Olympians and outside athletes.
Three years ago, Project Unify had basketball teams in 10 schools. This spring, there will be 27 teams participating, in both basketball and volleyball.
“For these athletes, for the first time for many of them, they’re wearing their school colors. Project Unify allows them to play on the same field as their classmates. Project Unify is transforming schools; it’s transforming communities,” DeJesus said. “In my day, people with intellectual disabilities, they were down at the end of the corridor; now, they’re part of the school where they belong.”
As part of Project Unify, youth activation committees educate students around the state about their peers with developmental disabilities and spread the “campaign to end the R word,” which is a statewide initiative to stop the use of the word “retarded.”
“People now realize that people with intellectual disabilities go to school in our community, they work in our community, they live in our community and, as a result, they contribute to our community,” DeJesus said.
Moretti is a perfect example of that. He holds down a job, competes on the sports field and educates Rhode Islanders about the developmentally disabled community through his work as a Global Messenger and TV personality.
For Moretti, he’s glad to pay it forward to the organization that has given him so much.
“It’s changed my life a lot,” he said. “It has made me an even more open person. I learned how to interact with people with and without disabilities and become better friends with them.”
Tickets to the Special Olympics Rhode Island Hall of Fame are $50 per person. For more information, call Donna Medeiros at 349-4900 or visit specialolympicsri.org. Guests must RSVP by Feb. 1.