Over 20 years, motionball for Special Olympics raised over $15 million

It has been 20 years since three brothers Sean, Mark and Paul Etherington started motionball, a charity designed to put the fun into fundraising and integrate the supporters and the Special Olympics athletes themselves. Through their 50+ annual social and sporting events across the country, the organization has raised over $15-million for Special Olympics.

Sean, Mark and Paul Etherington - motionball
Sean, Mark and Paul Etherington

On Thursday, September 29th, the motionball gala returns to Toronto featuring live music, dancing, drinks and a celebration of our Social Olympic athletes and supporters. We got to speak with the brothers to find out more about their journey.

For more information and tickets, check out their website.

What are some of the biggest changes to funding/awareness you have observed after 20 years? (Special Olympics)

The biggest positive funding change for Special Olympics these past 20 years would have been from the Government. Thanks to some hard work from the leaders at Special Olympics Canada over the years, the support from the Government has grown dramatically. There were 50,000 registered Special Olympics athletes within Canada back in 2019 and another 800,000 Canadians living with intellectual disabilities that could benefit from Special Olympics programs – clearly the Government of Canada finally saw the need and respected what the movement was doing for these Canadians.

Directly behind Government funding is the Police – what they do on an annual basis for Special Olympics through their Law Enforcement Torch Run events throughout Canada is truly remarkable.

And I believe the 3rd largest annual financial supporter of the Special Olympics movement in Canada is then motionball. Pre-Covid we were donating over $2m annually. And just as importantly we were and continue to introduce 10s of 1,000s of Canadian young professionals and University students to the movement through annual integrated social and sporting events all throughout Canada.

What are some of your earliest fondest/terrifying memories of starting out the organization?

Perhaps my earliest fondest moment at a motionball event was receiving our first THANK YOU note from a Special Olympics parent whose son had attended our first motionball Marathon of Sport event back in 2003. He thanked us for promoting the idea of integrated sports; for making his son feel like a Celebrity that day; and for providing an opportunity for his son to feel appreciated. It is a note my brothers and I still read to this day in order to get inspired and motivated to do more.

In terms of a terrifying moment in our early days of running motionball – I have 2 I would like to share. Year 2 of the motionball Toronto Gala at Capitol Theatre. We are 5 minutes to the opening of our VIP sponsor reception and the power goes out. Thankfully the venue had a ton of candles so we turned the VIP experience into a candlelight cocktail reception and had our entertainment play acoustic. We got away with it but thanked our lucky stars the power came back on for the main party! A close 2nd – we are 5 days out from our 2005 Toronto Gala event; we have moved to the much bigger York Theatre venue and we are 800 tickets shy of being sold out. We ordered an emergency meeting with our volunteer committee; leaned on them to be more engaged and supportive (a tough conversation with volunteers) and begged them to step up and sell tickets door to door if necessary. And did they ever! We ended up selling out with a day to spare!

What changes have you seen within the org since starting? 

The sheer growth of motionball has been remarkable. What started out as one annual Gala event in Toronto has now turned into 50+ annual events in 18 cities and on 35 University campuses. We have donated $15,000,000 to the Special Olympics Canada Foundation since our inception and we now have 6 full time staff. motionball has truly been blessed with some of the most inspiring volunteer Event Directors over the years who have taken time out of their busy work and or school schedules to passionately run and grow our events. Our volunteers are the lifeblood of motionball and our success to date would not be possible without them.

Where do you see yourselves going in the next 20 years with the org?

There are still 10 to 15 cities throughout Canada that I would love to see running motionball events. I expect another 20 to 30 University and or College campuses within Canada that will be running motionball University events. I hope and pray that our #nogoodway anti-bullying campaign will be a recognizable social campaign to all Canadian University students 5 years from now; and I fully expect to take our flagship motionball event – Marathon of Sport – to all the College Campuses in the States!

What can guests expect from the motionball gala?

The motionball Toronto Gala has truly become a MUST ATTEND event in Toronto for those in town on Thursday September 29th. We have 10 different entertainment acts; a host bar; over 100 silent auction items; fun and interactive photo booth activation stations; late night food stations; some of the best dressed Torontonians dolled up in their Black Tie suits and gowns; and most importantly a fun and welcoming vibe that truly caters to all.

How can our readers get involved?

Whether it is volunteering at one of our many events; or joining our local event committees; buying tickets to our Galas and enjoying the event with friends; or putting a team into our Marathon of Sport event – there are so many ways to get involved with motionball. Send an email to info@motionball.com and join the fun!



About Joel Levy 2587 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography