Norwich hosts 15th annual Special Olympics

For four years, Aliah Curry has been a leader and champion on the basketball floor. She’s won just about every honor, including becoming the all-time scoring leader at Norwich, among both men and women.
But there’s another side of her athletic career where she gets a thrill being on the sidelines: The Special Olympics.

special_olympics“My favorite part of the special Olympics is when a memberof the team scores and the excitement and joy on their face is remarkable,” said Curry, a senior health sciences major.
The 21-year-old from Windsor, Mass., has volunteered twice at the Special Olympics at Norwich. “I do it simply to help others and allow them to enjoy themselves while being competitive at their sport,” Curry said. “The reward in helping them can’t be put into words. It is amazing.”
Norwich’s 15th annual Special Olympics basketball tournament took place on March 28. Physical Education Professor Tom Roberge, along with the help of many of his students, planned and organized the event.
The students come from the “Physical Education 432, Organization Management of P.E. and Athletic Programs class,” Roberge said. The students in this class are physical education majors and minors.
Norwich holds a Special Olympics event twice every school year, once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester, where students plan, organize and volunteer at the event.
“I have a class that is responsible for organizing the event. We divide up the responsibilities amongst the class, “Roberge said. “I direct people on what needs to be done (and) who to contact.”
Roberge said he allows students to figure things out on their own but is available as a point of contact is they need help. He has been a part of the Special Olympics at Norwich himself for nine years.
“Norwich has been doing soccer for 28 years and just started basketball 14 years ago,” Roberge said.
For many students at Norwich, volunteering at the Special Olympics is an annual event that is, well, special.
“This is my third year,” said Cole Boone, a 21-year-old from Newport, N.H. A junior physical education major, he said he first got involved because it was for extra credit – but now does it because he enjoys it.
“Usually we’ll get a lot of people to come help and it’s a worthwhile cause, you get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” Boone said.
For Boone and other volunteers there is no compensation for their time other than a free t-shirt and great memories.
“My part is just actually watching the athletes do it because they take it seriously and the really enjoy (it),” Boone said. “I just like to help and make sure they’re having the best time possible.”
There are normally about 80 to 100 students who volunteer, aside from the initial physical education class who puts the event together, Roberge said.
“We have people there to keep score, to keep a clock, to escort teams around to where they’re going to play,” Roberge said.
Students can also give awards, set up and tear down anything needed for the event, and referee. There are many opportunities to participate, Roberge said.
Bruce Mackey, a 24-year-old senior, has participated in the event three times. “Last year during the springtime I was the media coordinator of the basketball one and during the fall I was helping out getting programs together,” said the physical education major from Fort Valley, Ga.
“I put on a show for the people, I make them feel good about themselves as they come out into the arena,” Mackey said.
Students devote almost an entire day to the event.
“Our students will be there from 7:30 a.m. to 4 or 4:30 p.m. But the actual games don’t start until 10 a.m. and go until about 3:30 p.m.,” Roberge said.
There are some students have volunteered a lot of their time to the Special Olympics.
“I have participated in the Special Olympics six times in college,” said Kelsey Lotti, 21, a senior guard who, like Curry, plays basketball.
A health sciences major from Cape Cod, Mass., she said she has had multiple jobs over the years at the Special Olympics. Also like Curry, she gets lots of satisfaction from volunteering.
“My favorite part of the Special Olympics is seeing the joy on the athletes’ faces,” Lotti said. “My favorite memory was when I was leading one of the soccer teams around and a younger girl on the team looked up to me and said, ‘I want to grow up and be like you someday.’”
Lotti said she takes part in the Special Olympics to make a difference in other people’s lives.
The students are not the only people who get something out of the event.
“Seeing how appreciative the athletes are of our students and what they do (is my favorite part). It’s just a great feeling for me to see Special Olympic athletes going up and hugging our students,” Roberge said.
Senior Irene Okubo is a 23-year-old physical education major with a lot of roles in the event.
“I am the ceremonies and awards coordinator. I help find someone to sing the national anthem, be the master of ceremonies and I also find corps of cadets students to present the athletes with their medals in their Bs,” said Okubo, who is from Chicago, Ill.
“I participated in the Special Olympics as a way to give back to the community. There are teams from all over the state that come to the event,” Okubo said.
For any students interested, they can just show up at the event at any time or contact the student volunteer coordinator, to help out, Roberge said.
The partnership between Norwich and the Special Olympics is great, Roberge said.
It is easy to see that the Special Olympics at Norwich is beneficial for not only the volunteers but for the athletes because they are “so excited that they were given an opportunity to play,” Roberge said.
The Special Olympics have been around since the 1950s and early 1960s. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics started it all, according to www.specialolympics.org.
“She held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities,” reads www.specialolympics.org.
“The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA,” according to the website. Since then, the Special Olympics has boomed. “The Special Olympics are the biggest volunteer organization in the world,” Roberge said.

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