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Student-athletes Michelle Gulino of St. Joseph’s (Long Island) and Zack Hansen of Texas-Dallas high-five Special Olympics athletes during a session Wednesday. Division III is in its second year of a partnership with Special Olympics.
By Kathryn Krtnick
It was the first of its kind at an NCAA Convention.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and about 50 athletic administrators and delegates conducted a clinic with 100 Special Olympics athletes from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Held on the Convention premises in two exhibit halls, the event featured an indoor tennis clinic, a health and wellness fitness circuit and a pizza party, where NCAA Division III athletic administrators and student-athletes served as coaches, cheerleaders and role models.
“Citizenship, comprehensive learning and community service embody NCAA Division III,” said Brett Halvaks, former cross country and track and field student-athlete and national SAAC member from California Lutheran University.
“The goal of this event was to provide an opportunity for our entire membership to actively engage with Special Olympics athletes and live out our values as an entire division.”
Although the NCAA Division III SAAC enlisted guest speakers to forward its partnership with Special Olympics at the two previous NCAA Conventions, the next step was to “walk the talk.” In March 2012, the SAAC began brainstorming and building a plan that would facilitate a large scale volunteer activity during the 2013 NCAA Convention.
With the help of Special Olympics – North America and Special Olympics – Texas, the SAAC was able to identify local Special Olympics athletes to participate, select activities that would provide a mutual learning experience for the NCAA Division III volunteers and the Special Olympics athletes and secure volunteers using the NCAA Convention registration system.
“An event of this magnitude enhances the whole experience of being part of the NCAA Division III and Special Olympics partnership,” said volunteer Tracey Hathaway, assistant athletic director/SWA at Concordia University – Texas.
Special guests of the morning included NCAA President Mark Emmert , Annette Lynch, Special Olympics – North America senior manager, and Suzanne Anderson, Special Olympics – Texas vice president.
“Our Special Olympics athletes are athletes in their own right, so it is great for them to be able to interact with an organization like the NCAA to showcase their abilities and to build relationships with the volunteers,” explained Anderson.
During the 2011 NCAA Convention in San Antonio, Tex., the SAAC announced a partnership with Special Olympics – North America, officially launching it in August 2011. In year one of reporting, Division III student-athletes and others from Division III campus communities across the country have dedicated more than a quarter of a million hours to Special Olympics
Through direct outreach to their conference and partner conference institutions, sharing outstanding Special Olympics stories via the Special Olympics Spotlight Poll on http://www.ncaa.org/D3SpecialOlympics, and continuing to “walk the talk,” the SAAC is committed to growing that number and spreading the passion for Special Olympics in year two of partnership.
“It is ultimately our hope that this first-ever Special Olympics activity will become a standing tradition for the NCAA Division III family at future Conventions,” said Halvaks.Last Updated: Feb 14, 2013