By Kelsey Roebuck
Last Saturday, 70 Grinnell students volunteered at the Special Olympics Unified Sports Day, which was hosted by the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC). The event was designed to raise awareness and build relationships between the Grinnell and Special Olympics communities.
“It was a unified day, so it basically means it wasn’t a day of competition but a day of awareness. So, an opportunity for students here to experience and learn about people with intellectual disabilities and for people with intellectual disabilities to learn about Grinnell,” said Karen Gogins ’13, Chair of Community Service for SAAC.
The event lasted most of the day and was held at the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center. Special Olympics athletes and volunteers representing most of Grinnell’s athletic teams participated in a number of different activities.
“We had about 50 Special Olympics athletes show up and there was basketball, volleyball, bowling, parachute, bean bag, bocce ball and arts and crafts,” Gogins said. “Teams of volunteers and athletes [were] paired up and kind of rotated to all the different stations.”
Student volunteers felt that their close interaction with the visiting athletes was one of the most meaningful parts of the day.
“A lot of us created personal bonds with a lot of the athletes,” said Morgan Sullivan ’15.
The final event of the day was a basketball game in which the volunteers played the athletes.
“My favorite part was the basketball game, definitely,” Gogins said. “It was just really fun to see the volunteers interact with the athletes and just the joy on the athletes’ faces whenever they would score a basket; it was really fun.”
During closing remarks, students were able to see the impact the day’s events had on a few of the visiting athletes.
This year represents a significant move toward community service as a way for SAAC to accomplish its goal of representing Grinnell student-athletes to the rest of the campus and the surrounding community.
“Basically, SAAC functions to be a voice for student-athletes on campus,” Gogins said.
This year, Gogins and the rest of SAAC have heavily encouraged each athletic team to host a Community Meal at Davis Elementary and have found many athletes willing to participate.
“We have probably reached about 300 athletes helping with the community meal,” Gogins said.
Later in the semester. there will be opportunities for student-athletes and other volunteers to participate in some Habitat for Humanity projects organized by SAAC. This, too, represents one of SAAC’s initiatives to involve the whole Grinnell community in their service projects.
Student-athletes who volunteered at this weekend’s Unified Sports Day emphasized that they hoped that the event would grow in the future to include non-athlete volunteers as well.
“This event wasn’t just for the athletes to volunteer at. Next year, having a greater diversity would be good,” said Summer Wilke ’15.
“We want it to be a whole campus thing,” Sullivan said.