From University of Chicago Athletics
Each new season, collegiate student-athletes at the University of Chicago are brought together to compete and grow. The bonds of connection and cohesion are built up in the pursuit of team success.
The shared experience of competition went one step further on Thursday morning. UChicago students and coaches came together to host dozens of participants from Special Olympics Chicago for a few hours of athletic activities at the Henry Crown Field House.
The second floor of the 83-year-old field house was filled with energetic music and eager competitors. The Special Olympics athletes in attendance took part in a rotation of events that included basketball, soccer, volleyball, bean bag toss and sprint races. UChicago's Order of the "C" (OOC) and Women's Athletic Association (WAA) brought many of their athletic representatives to cheer on the Special Olympics visitors and assist in running each sport station.
The University Community Service Center (UCSC) and Special Olympics Chicago previously discussed the idea of hosting a field day on campus, and it came to fruition on Thursday.
"We wanted to have an opportunity to really build a bridge between the work that the Special Olympics are doing and the work that UChicago Athletics is doing in terms of getting students involved in extra-curricular opportunities," said Chris Huff, who serves as Student Civic Engagement Coordinator. "We sent the proposal and they were very enthusiastic about the opportunity and immediately came on board and began helping organize the athletes to help take part in the opportunity."
Special Olympics Chicago is perpetually looking to develop new partnerships locally and saw the opportunity to expand its campaign of #AthletesSupportingAthletes. Susan Nicholl, Executive Director of Special Olympics Chicago, was on hand at the event to help coordinate the proceedings.
"It's all about relationships and making connections with kind-hearted people who know that events like today make a big difference for our athletes," Nicholl said. "It's something new and different and it gets them on a bus so they can experience a new part of the city and make new friends. That's kind of the core of our mission: to meet new people who can help build a community of acceptance and inclusion."
Softball player Carly Schulz was one of numerous student-athlete volunteers in attendance. The freshman relished the community service experience as a welcome respite from the weekly grind.
"It's really great to have this opportunity to branch out and to hang out with a new type of athlete and get a new perspective," Schulz said. "It gives us a break from studying and the stress that goes along with all of that, and it gives us a good perspective on what it means to truly be an athlete."
Junior wrestler Michael Sepke echoed the enthusiastic sentiment. "It's great," said Sepke. "This is my first time doing something like this and it's really awesome to see these Special Olympians and be able to put a smile on their faces. I want to do more stuff like this in the future, because this is fantastic."
Both UCSC and Special Olympics Chicago would like to replicate the event in the future at different times of the year with additional student groups on campus. Nicholl pointed to the shared experiences among the athletic communities that help with immediate bonding when the two sides interact.
"There's a natural tendency for athletes to support other athletes because they're very similar," Nicholl said. "Our [Special Olympics] athletes identify goals, they train, they persevere and they experience defeat. There's a like-minded personality makeup if you will, so there's instant bonding and friendship building. And what's nice is that it gives our athletes an opportunity to share some stories about themselves with a new audience."
The OOC and WAA support Special Olympics via fundraisers throughout the school year. Huff would also like to see the partnership expand to other areas of campus at-large, in order to build up support and personal relationships.
For Sepke, the best aspect of the day was seeing the visiting athletes strive and succeed. "Just watching them do well, watching them score goals and make it across the finish line. It's just really fun to high-five and congratulate them. That's got to be the most rewarding part."