[From August 2021 to May 2022, The Decade of Inclusion interview series will capture the past, present and future of the partnership between Division III and Special Olympics. This is the tenth article in the 10-part series. Stay tuned to hear how the lives of student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes have been impacted over time, what is happening currently, and what’s still to come.]
This month, we reflect on the stories shared from the past 10 months of interviews. We started off hearing the vision of the partnership from Dan Dutcher, former NCAA DIII Vice President, and Louise McCleary, the current Vice President of NCAA DIII. McCleary shared, “this partnership would be able to enhance the lives of Division III student-athletes as well as the Special Olympics athletes; and it would be a mutual learning experience for both. The ultimate vision was to raise awareness of Special Olympics, its programs, its services, and all the wonderful Special Olympics athletes that we have and to be able to partner with them”. This vision set the scene for schools and conferences across the country to connect with local Special Olympics Programs.
When the partnership started 10 years ago, DIII institutions and conferences across the country got connected to their local Special Olympics state Programs. One of those schools were Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Megan Mundy, the Assistant Athletic Director of Business and Operations was a former student-athlete toward the beginning of the partnership. Mundy was once involved in the partnership from a student-athlete perspective, now she supports the partnership in her role in the athletic department at King’s College. On her experience as a student-athlete she shared, "It was honestly so rewarding. I had no idea how much the opportunity was going to impact my life for the better. I love the bonds that I made with not only the Special Olympics athletes but fellow King's athletes. It really brought us together as an athletic community."
More recently atBethany College, Allison Paxton, the founder of the Bethany College Special Olympics College Club and Kami Morris, a Special Olympics West Virginia athlete shared the growth of their friendship since they met through Special Olympics Unified Sports® events at Bethany College. On their friendship, Morris shared “ever since I first met [Allison], she makes me feel so special”. Abigail Newkirk, the series interviewer and DIII Student Athlete Advisory Committee Member warmly responded that relationships like the ones that Morris and Paxton formed has been one of her favorite parts of the partnership as well.
This partnership has provided a platform for people of all abilities to come together through a shared interest – sport. Unified Sports on college campuses across the country offer a unique experience for everyone to experience the joy of inclusion, leading to more accepting communities. DIII schools and conferences are a great supporter of Special Olympics athletes. The partnership trajectory has a great amount of opportunity to continue bringing people of all abilities together. The interviewees throughout the Decade of Inclusion series left us with one important message – Choose to Include!
To get involved or to get more information, fill out the Special Olympics college program interest form.