[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 ninth 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.]
As we continue to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Special Olympics and NCAA Division III partnership, it can be said that the bond between the two organizations formed well over a decade ago. Conferences and institutions all around the country were developing partnerships long before Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) officially launched the collaboration in August 2011. One of the several pioneers to help create this establishment; King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
King’s College Associate Vice President and Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation, Cheryl Ish remembers her first encounter with Special Olympics just like it was yesterday. In the late 2000s, Ish recalls a local group reaching out, asking for facility assistance. Not only did she grant permission for Special Olympics athletes to use the gymnasium, but additionally provided volunteers to help assist with the inaugural event and the rest is history. What turned out to be a simple, cordial favor, turned out to be a lifetime investment that would benefit all parties involved. One of the first student-athletes to witness this partnership blossom, now assistant athletics director, Megan Mundy, looks back at this relationship with nothing but cheerful thoughts. “I had no idea how much the opportunity was going to impact my life for the better,” said Mundy. “I loved the bonds that I made with not only the Special Olympics athletes but fellow King’s athletes. It really brought us together as an athletics community. It was just so fulfilling to see the progress that Special Olympics athletes would make from week to week and how much fun they would have at the same time.”
Special Olympics Pennsylvania athlete Aaron Keller added that he is looking forward to the next time he can link up with the Monarchs on the court, but better yet build more friendships with all the student-athletes. Emphasizing how welcoming both groups are, Keller left us with his favorite quote, “When everyone wins, everyone is included.” All interviewees strongly believe the partnership will continue to move in a positive direction, not only at King’s College but also Division III-wide. After coming off a pandemic, which altered annual events between Special Olympics Pennsylvania and King’s College, there is no one more eager to get this show back on the road than these two groups. With so much to look forward to in the near future, King’s College is beyond determined to carry this unification on for another decade to come.
The purpose of the partnership is to enhance the lives of Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes through a mutual learning experience. The more that student-athletes begin to realize the rewards from the partnership do not come from volunteering, but more so wanting to be present, the more both sides will benefit as a whole like the Monarchs of King’s College.