Special Olympics impacts perceptions of individuals with intellectual disabilities

Published by adviser, Author: Katie Ellis - Campus Life Editor, Date: October 9, 2014
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Nearly 300 athletes and 445 volunteers gathered together on Sunday, October 5, to mark Slippery Rock’s annual Special Olympics event, where athletes from across Western Pennsylvania competed for the gold in five events held across campus.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the Special Olympics organization in order to enrich the lives of those living with intellectual disabilities, and in the summer of 1968, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago, according to specialolympics.org. Today, this initiative is still recognized worldwide, with Slippery Rock being just one of many institutions to hold the games in order for athletes to come together to participate in various sports including soccer, volleyball, powerlifting, bocce, and long-distance running and walking.

The opening ceremony of the games were held in the Aebersold Student Recreation Center (ARC) where athletes from areas like Butler, Lawrence, and Washington Counties walked in a procession and passed a torch to mark the official start of the games before President Cheryl Norton and athletes from Butler County spoke, to welcome volunteers and spectators to the 2014 Special Olympics event. Junior public relations major and sport management minor Alex Barrett, 20, served on the event management team that organized Sunday’s event as one of its public relations chairs.

Barrett and the event management team drafted press releases and promoted the event across social media in order to get students on campus involved, and also to encourage local businesses like Sheetz and minor league baseball team, the State College Spikes, to lend their support to the event.

“The clubs and activities fair that was held at the beginning of the year helped reach out to kids, and a chair on the event management team reached out to local organizations to help sponsor the Special Olympics,” Barrett said. “The chair was able to reach out to a lot of people and get a lot of donations which made the Special Olympics better.”

The Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) partnered with the event management team in order to help organize the event. A representative from the organization was present at meetings to answer questions for members so that they were prepared come event day, according to Barrett.

Fellow public relations chair, sophomore marketing major Logan Steigerwalt, 19, became involved with Special Olympics as a freshman, but was inspired to take on a leadership role this year in part because of one of the event’s co-chairs, and the effect it had on him last year.

“Brandon Cannon, one of the event’s co-chairs impacted my decision to become involved, and he guided Alex and me to be leaders this year,” Steigerwalt said. “As a freshman, I was able to see how big of an impact this day had on athletes and volunteers, and I wanted to be involved in something like that.”

The long hours that it took to prepare for the event were worth it to see the look on the athletes’ faces, according to Steigerwalt. He also hopes that after participating in the event, people are able to have a greater appreciation for the athletes.

“I hope people take away that it’s different things in life that make people happy,” Steigerwalt said. “We all have our own unique talents. We should appreciate what we have.”

One of the sports in which the athletes were able to participate was bocce, which took place inside the field house, where six courts were set up so that two teams made up of two players each were able to compete for the gold. The object of bocce is for players to roll the bocce balls from one end of the court as close as they can to the pallino ball in order to score a total of 12 points to win the game.

Senior early childhood and special education major Lauren Holland, 21, helped with the bocce games at the Special Olympics as a part of Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), and also to gain experience to help her going forward once she becomes a teacher.

“As a future special educator, I felt it was important to get experience, and it’s always good to give back,” Holland said.

She has been volunteering for the Special Olympics since she was a sophomore and wanted to return again this year in order to interact more with the athletes participating in the bocce event. Getting to spend time with the athletes face-to-face has also been a rewarding for the future teacher.

“My sophomore year I was a cheerleader for bocce, but I didn’t feel involved, so last year I volunteered for the event and wanted to do it again this year,” Holland said. “It’s very rewarding to get to see the athletes participate in a mainstream event.”

Each sport held their own awards ceremony to mark the closing of the games where medals were handed out to the athletes that finished from first to fourth place in their event. The athletes that placed at Slippery Rock’s Special Olympics, which served as a qualifying meet, will compete again at the state competition later this year.

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