[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 seventh 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.]
When Allison Paxton, senior track student-athlete at Bethany College was in first grade, doctors diagnosed her with a form of high-functioning autism. Doctors and therapists advised her parents to get Paxton involved in sports to help expand her social skills and, very quickly sports became an integral part of Paxton’s life. Starting from when she was five, up to playing soccer for two years and track and field for four years at Bethany, Paxton used sports as a way to grow and learn.
So it comes as no surprise that when Paxton saw a friend’s social media post about a Special Olympics College Club at a different institution, she “knew immediately” she wanted to start a Special Olympics Club at Bethany. Noting how much sports had helped her growing up, Paxton said, “When I realized that I could do the same for [Special Olympics] athletes in my area, I knew I wanted to jump on that opportunity.”
Paxton reached out to a close advisor on Bethany’s campus who encouraged her and helped her connect to the right people at the local, state and national level. After jumping through “a lot of hoops,” Paxton and Bethany College started the first Special Olympics College Club in the entire state of West Virginia. Paxton noted that the process was “amazing … challenging … but in the end all worth it.”
And it is through the Special Olympics Club at Bethany College that Paxton met Kami Morris, a Special Olympics athlete from West Virginia. While Morris has participated in a variety of sports, she noted that basketball, swimming and bowling were her favorites. Morris also noted she “never lets her friends down,” which is apparent in how she talks about her experience with the Special Olympics Club at Bethany and Paxton. Morris said her favorite memory was “meeting new friends” at Bethany and that Paxton became “so special in my life” from the moment they met.
Currently, Paxton, Morris and the Special Olympics Club at Bethany meet one time a year for a Special Olympics Field Day and then also do their best to attend each other’s games to show support. However, Paxton and her successor have big plans for the Special Olympics Club at Bethany in the future, including expanding the field day and adding Special Olympics Unified Sports®. Paxton noted that the Special Olympics Club is a great asset to both the campus and community, so she hopes expanding the activities will allow everyone to feel included.
And inclusion is important to both Paxton and Morris, who both noted that some of the words that come to mind are fun, joy, laughter and bravery. Paxton added, “inclusion means somewhere everyone can be themselves.” And is seems that Paxton, Morris and the Special Olympics Club at Bethany College are certainly off to a fantastic start on creating that inclusive place for Bethany College students and Special Olympics West Virginia athletes.