Sports anchor creates show for the special needs community

Sports anchor creates show for the special needs community

Sports anchor creates show for the special needs community

HOMETOWN: Cherry Hill

FAMILY: Husband Howard, daughter Jessica, 9

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. Beth Tikvah

HOBBIES: Watching sports, working out



Even as a girl in Lakewood, New Jersey, sports were at the center of Sue Shilling’s life. While She herself was an athlete, playing softball for the All Ocean County league, Shilling was also a die-hard fan of the New York Mets (a passion that’s just as strong today). Every night, she would sit with her older brother and watch sports on television.

Naturally, her dream was to become a sportscaster.

At Rowan University, where she majored in communications, Shilling played for their softball team and worked for the radio station, where, she says, she “fell in love with radio.” After college, she worked as a sports writer for the Ocean County Observer before landing her first job in radio on a big band station doing overnight shows and newscasts in the morning. Finally, in 1999, she landed her dream job as a sports anchor on WIP.

“It was a chance to really report on things that I love, make great connections, meet great people, and connect with the listeners,” she said. It was a challenge to make a place for herself in what is still a male-dominated field, said Shilling, but “I wasn’t going to let it stop me.” Twenty years later, she still hasn’t stopped—and is now also a sports anchor on KYW.

Nine years ago, Shilling’s life expanded in an unexpected way with the birth of her daughter, Jessica, who has autism and is considered non-verbal. Sue and her husband, Howard, were brought into the world of special needs, where they met and worked with amazing people who have helped them raise Jessica, who attends a special needs school, uses a speaking device to communicate, and loves sports just as much as her mother does. Jessica, an “intelligent, happy girl,” plays in the Cherry Hill challenger baseball league and the special needs soccer league in the fall. She is especially proud of her mother, whom she knows is a sportscaster.

“She holds the WIP logo and says, ‘Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,’” said Sue. One of the highlights of Jessica’s year was the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, about which she said, “They won the game!”

“This is a girl who doesn’t really speak,” Sue said, “but she verbalized that!” Through WIP, Jessica was invited to take a picture with the winning team, and attends the yearly mother-daughter Phillies game with Sue.

In 2014, Sue had the idea to combine her experience in radio and raising a daughter with special needs to create a new radio talk show, “Everything Special Needs.” Airing on Monday nights from 6-7 p.m. on 1360-AM WNJC and on Thursday evenings from 5-5:30 p.m. on Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS-FM, “Everything Special Needs” features parents, professionals, and individuals with special needs to share their stories.

“When it started,” Shilling said, “I had no idea that I would get as much out of it as I have. These bonds form between the listeners, between me, and the guests. They tell their personal stories and it’s very powerful.” She has had the opportunity to interview people of all backgrounds and abilities, whether it’s a parent who has lost a child or a person with autism who has limited communication skills and remarkable musical talent. “Some stories are heartbreaking,” said Sue, “But I want to give them that chance.” After a young man on the spectrum was featured on the show, his mother thanked Sue for being so kind to him. “That might be the only time someone did that,” Sue said.

Despite some of the heavy topics, the theme of “Everything Special Needs” is celebration and acceptance. “It’s easy to get caught up in challenges you face daily, but I try to exude a positive atmosphere on the show,” said Sue—an outlook that extends to her own life. “Even though Jessica is considered non-verbal, we still have this amazing connection. My late father used to say, ‘You two can read each other’s mind.’ You just have to look for the gifts in your child. There are so many gifts that Jessica brings me every single day by her presence.”

One of the happy byproducts of the show has been a change in perspective that Shilling hopes will extend to her listeners. “I have realized through my daughter and this show that sometimes society looks at those with special needs as weak. It’s actually the opposite. They are the strong ones and we can all learn from them.”