Abby Abel and Mitch Bonar, Inspirational Advocates for Unified Sports, Named Grand Marshals of the 2018 IPL 500 Festival Parade

April 16, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS (April 16, 2018) – 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.


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.”


“Having Abby and Mitch serve as Grand Marshals of one of Indiana’s most cherished community events - the IPL 500 Festival Parade - will give all Hoosiers an opportunity to celebrate their devotion to positively impact our community and our world,” said Craig Jackson, president and CEO, IPL. “We’re proud to honor Abby and Mitch – and the work being done in schools throughout Indiana – to breakdown the barriers that have been built between those with intellectual disabilities and those without.”


One of the original events produced by the 500 Festival, the IPL 500 Festival Parade is one of the nation’s largest, most respected parades, consistently earning national acclaim alongside the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The 2018 IPL 500 Festival Parade will be held the day before the Indianapolis 500, and will be themed Illuminate. Innovate. Indianapolis. 300,000 spectators will line the Parade route to experience the pageantry of the Indy 500 as larger-than-life floats and massive helium balloons light up the skyline of downtown Indianapolis as celebrities, marching bands, patriotic units and specialty units fill the streets to celebrate the world’s largest single-day sporting event. The tradition continues with the 33 starting drivers of the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, riding in the traditional rows of three.


2018 Parade Theme: Every May, the world turns its focus to Indianapolis. Beaming with civic pride and radiating a racing spirit, together we can present a city that shines bright at the forefront of a cutting edge world. Using the IPL 500 Festival Parade’s national platform, we will ILLUMINATE the many ways that Hoosiers rally together to enrich lives through celebration, civic pride, our racing spirit, and the timeless tradition of celebrating our great heroes on Memorial Day Weekend. We will also pay tribute to the unparalleled work being done throughout the city of Indianapolis and Indiana to INNOVATE, advancing our community and our world. So let’s turn the lights up high, point the camera on Indy, and take action for the 102nd Running of the Indy 500. Illuminate. Innovate. Indianapolis.   


The 2018 IPL 500 Festival Parade will take place on Saturday, May 26. Parade festivities will start at 11:45 am ET in downtown Indianapolis. IPL 500 Festival Parade tickets start at $10 and can be purchased at, by calling (317) 614-6400, or at the 500 Festival Ticket Office, located at 21 Virginia Ave. in Downtown Indianapolis. The Ticket Office is open on weekdays from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm.


For more information about the IPL 500 Festival Parade, please visit or search #IPL500Parade on social media.


EDITOR’S NOTE: To download photos of Abby and Mitch, click HERE.

To download video of the surprise announcement, click HERE.


About the 500 Festival

Founded in 1957, the 500 Festival is a not-for-profit organization that produces more than 50 life-enriching events and programs that celebrate the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500 and foster a positive impact on the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana. One of the largest festivals in the nation, each year more than half a million people attend an event or program produced by the 500 Festival. Since its founding, the 500 Festival has contributed more than $400 million in economic value to Indianapolis. To learn more about the 500 Festival, please visit, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.