By Bridget Walsh
On Sunday Oct. 14, DeSales hosted this year’s Special Olympics Eastern Fall Sectional. The event ran throughout the day at various locations on campus and at Southern Lehigh High School down the road from campus. It also included five sports, over 500 volunteers, spectators and coaches, and most importantly around 800 athletes.
Since the summer of 2017, the Special O committee began working to make sure all of the elements necessary to host the Eastern Fall Sectional would make DeSales a great option for the event. From that point, a 50-student committee led by seniors Hannah Pergolizzi and Sarah Knop began preparing for this day-long sectional. This project included learning all of the rules and regulations for all five sports: volleyball, bocce ball, long distance walking/running, soccer and powerlifting.
“I could not have hoped for a better year one project,” said Jaime Gerhart, director of the center for service and social justice. “This was a huge accomplishment for everyone who supported this event. Our surveys came back with glowing reviews of our facilities and the welcoming attitude of everyone they interacted with during the day.”
This event was possible through the efforts of all DeSales students and community. From freshman helping with decorations during orientation and the weeks leading up to the event, to training of every volunteer by the committee members, to facilities and supportive faculty and staff making the campus look and function in the best way possible, so many members of the community truly gave their full efforts to prepare for this major function.]
Volunteers, especially those who have never helped with a Special Olympics event before, were able to witness how hard the athletes prepare and how dedicated they are to their events.
“After a day like Special Olympics you realize how much braver you can be in your daily life,” said Gerhart. “Competing in these sports are not always easy for the athletes, but they go out there and compete. At the beginning of every Special Olympics event the athlete recite their oath, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ It’s a motto I hope our students will take with them as they navigate the world.”
Future plans for DeSales’ involvement in Special Olympics will be their efforts to prepare and host next fall’s Eastern Sectional scheduled for Sunday Oct. 13. The committee also plans on hosting more inclusive events for DeSales students similar to the Unified Soccer day with athletes from the Lehigh and Bethlehem area before the fall sectionals.
“Hosting Eastern Fall Sectional was a step toward creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” said Knop. “Integrating Special Olympics athletes into the campus community requires more than a one day event. That is why hosting Unified events on campus, participating in local program events, and having athletes on our committee is so important. We are providing a forum for students to form genuine relationships and friendships with a population which is not usually invited onto a college campus.”