Since 2011, Special Olympics and NCAA Division III schools have been connected through a partnership designed to foster a mutual learning experience between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes. Through this partnership, Division III student-athletes across the country are encouraged to participate in existing Special Olympics events, create their own events, or otherwise serve to support Special Olympics organization.
In North Carolina, several Division III schools have embraced local Special Olympics programs, creating partnerships that improve programming for Special Olympics athletes as well as provide student athletes with a venue for passion and service.
Greensboro College not only opened their field but also took Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro soccer under their wing! The men’s and women’s college teams stay after their own practices to work with the SOGG teams. They set up practices, work one-on-one with athletes that need additional support, and serve as peer coaches and Unified partners.
In 2012, the first UNITY CUP was played at neighboring Guilford College. Guilford College and Greensboro College teamed with the two Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro teams to create two Unified teams. It was the beginning of a great relationship between Special Olympics and the two colleges.
Over the past three years, Greensboro College has devoted time, resources, and players to enhance the Special Olympics soccer program, including donating uniforms for the Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro soccer athletes. The UNITY CUP has been played at Greensboro College for the past two years and the teams have been created using the women’s and men’s college players alongside the Special Olympics soccer players. The UNITY CUP game is a well-established event on campus! Greensboro College student/athletes (football, baseball and lacrosse players) come out to serve as volunteers and cheer teams for the UNITY CUP game!
In 2012, John Trice, the Greensboro College head men’s soccer coach, was promoted to Athletic Director and the relationship between Special Olympics and Greensboro College continued to expand. Trice involves the Special Olympics athletes in college games when possible, has donated items for the Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro silent auction fundraiser, and in 2014 had the Greensboro College retired soccer uniforms donated to the Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro program! Trice continually looks for new ways to involve college athletes in Special Olympics- providing players as volunteers, Unified bowling partners, and clinicians at the Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro Winter Classic basketball game!
Greensboro College soccer athlete Liam Buckley (from Oldham, England) was involved in the UNITY Cup for two years and then stepped up to assist head Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro Coach Kari Dunckel with planning practices, creating team rosters, and involving more soccer players as peer coaches and Unified partners. Coach Dunckel can already see an improvement in the players this year. Liam has provided much needed structure to their practices and gives individual attention to athletes to improve their skill level.
Overall, the relationship between Greensboro College and Special Olympics Greensboro is a win-win.
Methodist University’s connection with Special Olympics NC spans a range of activities, including providing volunteer support, equipment and facilities for local events, raising funds through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and giving Methodist students the opportunity to coach Special Olympics NC athletes. But the cornerstone of the partnership is the Unified Flag Football league within the Campus Recreation department. Fifteen Unified Partners from Methodist University join Special Olympics Cumberland County athletes and coaches for a five-week long season. The teams practice regularly and compete during weekly games. Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority provided volunteer cheerleaders each week to bring extra energy and excitement to the game environment.
Fayetteville State University has provided practice facilities and volunteers from their Adaptive PE program for local Special Olympics Forsyth competitions. Special Olympics Forsyth County cheerleaders also had the honor of adding enthusiasm to the 2015 Division III Track & Field Indoor Championships Awards Banquet.
Through the years, the Division III partnership with Special Olympics NC has positively impacted hundreds of college students and Special Olympics athletes. Friendships formed, skills improved and most importantly the foundation for respect and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities grew.