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Student Volunteers Help Make Special Olympics Event a Hit for Youngsters from Norfolk Public Schools

Sunny skies, along with warm smiles and hugs from a host of student volunteers, greeted the participants in a Special Olympics program Tuesday at Old Dominion University.

Students from ODU's therapeutic recreation program helped plan the event for approximately 90 children, ages 6-11, from Norfolk Public Schools (NPS). They and other university students, including nearly 30 members of the Monarch football team, were out in force helping run the various events and activities, and just offering words of encouragement to the youngsters, followed by high-fives and lots of applause.

The day's activities, held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., featured six medal events and 12 skill events on the intramural fields behind ODU's Student Recreation Center. Participants also took part in therapeutic recreation games between events.

Betsy Kennedy, senior lecturer of human movement sciences, came up with the idea for a Special Olympics together with James Gunther, an adaptive physical education teacher with NPS.

"I run a therapeutic recreation clinic for students in the RTS 261 (Recreation and Tourism Studies) class every fall semester, and I partner with James to bring in children from NPS," Kennedy explained. "He spoke with me about wanting to run a Special Olympics event just for kids from the Norfolk schools and asked me about having my students run it and having ODU host it."

Kennedy said the undergraduate students from her therapeutic recreation program were enthusiastic about the idea, and it all came together on a picture-perfect day Tuesday morning. Noted Gunther, "We couldn't have asked for anything better."

Kennedy, smiling as she moved from one event to another, taking pictures and monitoring the activities, agreed. "This is fabulous," she said. "The weather is perfect and everyone is having a great time."

She also praised the student volunteers who helped make the program a success.

One of the volunteers was Tommy Reamon, of Newport News, a student in one of Kennedy's classes, who in turn recruited fellow members of the football team to help out. Reamon, a redshirt freshman on the football team this year, said it wasn't a hard sell.

"We had 28 who signed up the first day," he said, noting that Kennedy was very excited when he reported back about the response he got. "The guys are always willing to help out at events like this."

Another volunteer, junior Allie Hunka of Virginia Beach, was in charge of the standing long jump competition. A member of Kennedy's class that organized the Special Olympics event, Hunka said, "Working with these kids is so awesome. Seeing their faces light up and just watching them have a great time is really rewarding."

Participants competed in the following medal events: 50-meter walk/run, softball throw, standing long jump, Hula-hoop toss, basketball shooting and T-ball hitting.

The Special Olympians also took part in a variety of skill events: obstacle course, soccer kick, weightlifting, beanbag toss, fitness, bowling, corn hole, hockey, track, ladder ball, jump rope and "eye toy."

Kennedy noted that the ODU activity was not an official competition sponsored by the Special Olympics organization, but that Special Olympics Virginia was a partner. Val Reinford, vice president for local program services with Virginia Special Olympics, was on hand for the event, which she said provided a wonderful opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities. She credited the partnership between NPS and ODU for making the event a success, adding that she was impressed with the student volunteers. "They're so enthusiastic," she said.

Said Kennedy, "The ODU Olympics was a wonderful partnership between the university, the Norfolk Public Schools and Special Olympics Virginia. The event provided an excellent service-learning experience for ODU students while promoting the opportunities for Special Olympians to develop their physical skills, display their talents and to have fun."

This article was posted on: April 13, 2010

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