On February 27th and 28th, students from the Center for Sport Leadership volunteered with the Special Olympics of Virginia for the James River Regional Basketball Tournament. Held at U-Turn, a sports performance academy located in Richmond, the tournament kicked off on Sunday, the 28th at 9am and lasted through the day. CSL students, though, were on site Saturday to help with the set up and returned in the morning to assist U-Turn and Special Olympics staff with sign up and registration among other tasks.
Behind the lead of Tina Andes, Special Olympics of Virginia’s James River Region Director, and Sterling Dickerson, Director of Basketball at U-Turn, CSL students were given several duties throughout the weekend. Saturday was an afternoon and evening filled with moving basketball hoops, tables, and chairs, while Sunday was a fun-filled day where students were in charge of registration, running scoreboards and game clocks, monitoring courts, and leading the awards ceremonies. More important than any of these tasks, though, was the charge to fulfill the mission and purpose of Special Olympics throughout the weekend.
The purpose of Special Olympics of Virginia is to “create opportunities for meaningful interaction and self-discovery for everyone” through sport (specialolympicsva.org). Throughout the tournament, students from the Center for Sport Leadership were given many opportunities to interact with Special Olympics athletes by providing a word of encouragement, high-five, enthusiastic cheer, or kind smile. This was especially seen during the awards ceremonies. After each team completed their games, the athletes were ushered to receive their ribbons. CSL students announced the awards for each participant regardless of place, providing energy and entertainment for each ceremony throughout the day. Parents and fans also participated in these ceremonies through cheering and clapping for each athlete as they were announced. J.B. Tanner (Class of 2010) summed up the atmosphere, saying “It is really great to see how excited the athletes, coaches, and parents were and it was a lot of fun cheering with them and celebrating their accomplishments.” This interaction allowed for a great atmosphere, for which the athletes and parents alike were grateful.
Further fulfilling the purpose of the Special Olympics “to open the heart and mind of every Virginian to the value and abilities of persons with intellectual disabilities”, many of the CSL volunteers had never participated in a Special Olympics event and came away with a great experience themselves (specialolympicsva.org). For some students, this event was a step out of their comfort zone, but the students went after this opportunity with positive attitudes. “The greatest responsibility and pleasure I had was the chance to encourage the athletes, however I was the one who ended up encouraged by the joy that the athletes were emitting because of the chance they had to participate and compete” said Ryan Neises (Class of 2010). As an organization always looking for more volunteers, Special Olympics of Virginia gained the attention of CSL students through their involvement with the James River Regional Basketball Tournament.
According to their mission, Special Olympics wishes to enhance the skills and friendship of participants with their families, other participants and the community. This mission was fulfilled throughout the tournament through a display of great sportsmanship among all participants. Athletes often cheered on teammates and opponents alike and offered encouragement for all to do their best. CSL students also participated in this positive atmosphere and growth of friendship through the awards ceremonies and in other areas such as scorekeeping. Each time a substitution was made, encouragement was given from the students manning the score table. By providing this encouragement, students provided a friendly environment.
As CSL students have learned through courses such as Sociology in Sport, sport is a vehicle for unity and social interaction. The power of sport transcends all levels of education, social class, race, and religion, and this was on display throughout the day. This unity of the human race allows for social interaction and learning through the competition of sport. Overall, this was an excellent experience for everyone involved. From participants to parents, fans, volunteers, and staff members, all were inspired by the mission and purpose of the Special Olympics being displayed. “The greatest reward was in observing and interacting with the athletes and being taken in by their happiness. In this way, we were a part of the Special Olympics true mission and felt what it means to serve the community” said Trey Eggleston (Class of 2010).