SRU earns special recognition from Special Olympics Pennsylvania
Slippery Rock University students in the adapted physical activity graduate program are coaching indoor bocce at eight local high schools through the Special Olympics Interscholastic Unified Sports Program. The IUS enables students with and without intellectual disabilities to train and compete on the same team.
Nov. 1, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For its work in championing inclusion of athletes with intellectual disabilities through sports and providing critical resources and program support, Special Olympics Pennsylvania has named Slippery Rock University its first "Unified Sports Center of Excellence."
The organization will honor SRU - as well as Robert Arnhold, professor of physical and health education, and Wendy Fagan, instructor of physical and health education, for their work in the field - at 10 a.m., Nov. 15 at the Smith Student Center Ballroom.
The recognition is part of SOP's Youth Summit, a day-long leadership program for western Pennsylvania students with and without intellectual disabilities.
"SRU is proud of its long relationship with Special Olympics Pennsylvania," Fagan said. "Being named the Unified Sports Center of Excellence illustrates the commitment and passion that SRU students and staff have toward the promotion of sport opportunities for everyone.
"We look forward to a continued partnership with Special Olympics Pennsylvania that supports the movement of inclusive sports at the high school and community levels," Fagan said.
"I think this award recognizes SRU's long and rich history with Special Olympics International that dates back to the 1980s," said Arnhold. "Special Olympics has frequently reached out to SRU's adapted physical activity faculty for leadership in new and emerging initiatives. (This recognition) is an honor and shows the quality of the faculty in our department."
The Interscholastic Unified Sports Program is a Special Olympics initiative that enables high school students with and without intellectual disabilities to train and compete on the same team.
SRU's version of the program, launched in 2015 in partnership with four local high schools, involved more than 50 students, including 22 with intellectual disabilities. The program has doubled its numbers in 2016, with eight high schools in Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties taking part. Student involvement now numbers more than 100, with 50 of the participants intellectual disabled. While last year's sport of choice was indoor bocce, 2016 has focused on track and field events.
According to Mike Bovino, Special Olympics Pennsylvania senior adviser for Interscholastic Unified Sports, practices and competitions are scheduled over a 10-week period which correlates with other established state interscholastic sports seasons.
Bovino said SOP hopes that SRU's program will become a model for other universities in the state and beyond.
"Nationally, the Special Olympics international headquarters is very interested in the model we are building at SRU and would like to share this model with other institutions across the country," Bovino said. "Potentially, this program will have a ripple effect."
Bovino said SRU embodies the mission of unified sports because of its adapted physical activity program, which educates students for careers managing fitness programs for those with disabilities.
"SRU students are not only managing programs, but they are delivering an essential service," he said. "We are a volunteer-based organization. The training that SRU students receive as future adapted physical educators provides us with an excellent volunteer pool in terms of knowledge and experience. We could not provide this programming without them."
Amanda Perricone, an adapted physical activity graduate student from Bedminster, said she coached bocce at Sharpsville High School last year and supervisors this year's programs at all eight high schools involved in this year's program.
More than 20 SRU students in the adapted physical activity graduate program work as volunteer coaches in the program.
"It's incredible that we are the only university in the state that is being recognized," said Perricone. "Special Olympics is trying to take what we're doing and mirror it all over the state and possibly the country. Knowing that what we're doing here could help enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities across the country is incredible."
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