‘Unifying’ Assumption Students and Special Olympics Athletes
This fall, Assumption College became the first Special Olympics collegiate partner in Massachusetts providing opportunities for students and Special Olympics athletes to compete in an intramural Unified Sports league with athletes from the Greater Worcester area.
According to the Special Olympics website, Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program that unites Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities) as teammates for training and competition. The indoor soccer games, which were held in Assumption’s Laska Gymnasium four times in October and November, featured teams comprised of 12 players, with an even mix of Special Olympic athletes and Assumption students. The season culminated in the championship tournament on November 7.
“The students created a welcoming and inclusive environment for all,” said Arthur Merriam, a volunteer coach and local program coordinator for Special Olympics. “[They] made sure that everyone was involved in the game and in conversations when they were not playing. I have watched as many participants - both athletes and students - have grown socially in this inclusive environment. The Assumption students were able to teach the Special Olympics athletes new skills both during the games and on the sidelines”
Through this experience, Matthew Sanchez ’22 strengthened his interpersonal skills. “It was an amazing and fulfilling experience to get to know the athletes and connect with them on a personal level,” he said. “Unified Soccer has helped me to become a more understanding and empathetic person and pushed me out of my comfort zone to help and bring out the best from my fellow athletes.”
Assumption has engaged with Special Olympics in the past, hosting an annual spring break basketball tournament, but this is the first time the College has collaborated with Unified Sports according to Mike Rodier, Campus Recreation director,
“I thought this partnership would be a good fit for Assumption and after observing the success of our first season, it was an incredible experience for everyone involved,” said Rodier. “We are in talks to start a Wallyball League or Pickleball League in the spring and are accepting names of individuals who would like to participate in the future.”
According Special Olympics, one of their many programs includes providing year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College