DIII partnership with Special Olympics off to stirring start: Before delegates got down to the business of voting on legislation at the 2011 NCAA Convention, the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee gave them reason to pause by announcing a partnership with Special Olympics that continues the link with the citizenship component of the Division III strategic-positioning platform. In a poignant display, about two dozen Special Olympics athletes were on hand to help with the announcement. Read more »
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By Gary Brown
SAN ANTONIO – The Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is initiating a partnership with Special Olympics in a coordinated community-outreach effort that incorporates the hundreds of SAACs at Division III schools and conference offices with the Special Olympics Programs that exist in each state.
The effort announced Saturday during the Division III business session at the NCAA Convention combines the student-athlete citizenship component already in place locally with the vast SAAC network throughout Division III – all under the umbrella of the division’s new strategic-positioning platform.
About two dozen Special Olympics athletes from the San Antonio area joined SAAC members in officially launching the campaign before a packed ballroom of Division III delegates.
“We believe this relationship with Special Olympics is a perfect fit for Division III,” said SAAC chair Marie Godwin. “Special Olympics is an established nationally recognized organization with programs offered in every state, and they involve hands-on interaction and physical activity, which are elements our committee believes are important with an initiative such as this.”
Special Olympics is a global, nonprofit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletics competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. That interaction and physical activity gives participants the chance to develop fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and share those skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and community members.
The NCAA honored Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder and honorary chair of Special Olympics, with the Association’s Theodore Roosevelt Award at the 2002 NCAA Convention. Shriver died in August 2009 at the age of 88.
The Division III SAAC began exploring a national community-outreach initiative during its meetings in November 2008 and January 2009. SAAC members sought input from institutional and conference SAACs before making a recommendation. The Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee established a similar national arrangement with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2004.
Godwin, a former volleyball standout at Macalester College, said more than 200 Division III schools already conduct outreach efforts involving Special Olympics. She said that this formal partnership will not only strengthen those existing relationships but also serve as a mutually beneficial opportunity for Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes to learn from each other.
“The partnership will serve as another opportunity to demonstrate the power of mobilizing Division III student-athletes toward a common goal,” Godwin said.
Division III SAACs already demonstrated their capacity for that type of collaborative effort in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. Under the leadership of the national SAAC, Division III set and eclipsed a goal of raising $100,000 through local efforts ranging from fundraisers to food drives.
“As the Haiti initiative proved, and our research suggests, this kind of outreach goes on every day on Division III campuses and in Division III communities,” said Division III Vice President Dan Dutcher. “This initiative is designed to channel those activities in a way that will benefit the education of our student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes alike.”
To facilitate the effort with Special Olympics, Godwin said the Division III SAAC will establish a subcommittee to work with conferences to coordinate at least one conference SAAC activity with Special Olympics during the academic year. Individual campus SAACs also will be encouraged to initiate their own outreach, and the Division III SAAC will have plenty of ideas and resources to assist in that regard.
“We prefer that whatever activity is established involve hands-on interaction between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes,” Godwin said. “The committee believes this will maximize the benefits of the partnership for both parties.”
If hands-on interaction is not practical, Godwin said conferences may also engage in fundraising efforts to benefit their state Special Olympics organizations.
Rich Fellingham, president emeritus of Special Olympics Iowa, has been designated as the Special Olympics liaison to the Division III SAAC.
“It’s so good for the Special Olympics athletes, but what was surprising at first was how the NCAA student-athletes came back and said, ‘We get as much out of this as they do,’ ” he said. “It is so good for the student-athletes when they have a chance to do hands-on things with the Special Olympics athletes and understand them and learn from them.”
With the Division III initiative, Fellingham said conferences and schools can get as involved as they want. “Not all Division III schools may get involved at the 100 percent level, but obviously we already know that more than half of them are doing something right now,” he said.
The Division III SAAC will implement the campaign for the 2011-12 academic year. The SAAC subcommittee will document interaction between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics, including the number of volunteer hours and total amount of any funds raised. The partnership will be evaluated annually.
Godwin emphasized that the partnership is intended to provide Division III student-athletes with the ability to connect and serve Special Olympics in their locale, should they choose. It is not meant to provide access to an institution’s facilities or resources without the consent of institution. The structure of this initiative should allow Division III student-athletes the autonomy to decide if, when and how to participate, she said.
“There are not any preconceived expectations of Division III student-athletes’ involvement in this partnership,” Godwin said. “Rather, this partnership will provide the opportunity for student-athletes to engage Special Olympics, if they choose, in whatever ways that they may see fit. Student-athletes can collaborate with existing student-led programs involving Special Olympics on their campuses to ensure integration of the entire student body with any student-athlete-led initiative.
“We think the result will be a powerful example of how a large group of student-athletes who are predisposed to giving back to their communities can band together to make a national impact.”