Chicago Special Olympics held on Stagg

By Sydney Schwartz

The men’s and women’s Varsity Athletic Associations are sponsoring teams in the Chicago area Special Olympics, which are taking place at Stagg Field this week. The Special Olympics, which are hosted each year by the University, bring together school groups from throughout the Chicagoland area. This year’s Olympics started on Wednesday and will continue through 3 p.m. today.

“Groups from all over the city come and many run multiple races,” said Megan Kunz, a softball team representative in the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA). “It’s a time when they can all come out and run around and get free candy and posters.”

The WAA hosts a fundraiser “Shoot Out” during basketball season to make money to help fund teams. “Our biggest service project is to sponsor a team or two at Special Olympics,” said Jen Derstine, a vice president of WAA.

This year, the WAA raised over $2,200 — enough money to sponsor two schools in the Special Olympics. “This year we funded the Ada S. McKinley Vocational School and helped fund Avalon Park Elementary School,” Jennifer DeLopst, vice president of the WAA, said. “We provided them with funding for sweatsuits and uniforms.”

Traditionally, WAA sponsors only the Ada S. McKinley School, a school that works with adults that have developmental disabilities. “The team that we’ve been sponsoring, Ada S. McKinley Vocational school, has more adult participants — which is a harder population to get sponsors for,” Derstine said.

Derstine said that some of the WAA’s donation also helps athletes stay at a hotel downtown with other participants.

The Order of the C, the men’s varsity letter association, traditionally sponsors A.O. Sexton, a school in the Woodlawn area. “Before the Olympics … we put on a sports clinic for them,” said Nick Freeman, president of Order of the C. “Two weeks ago, the students came to Henry Crown and we got to know them and let them know that we would be out there during the Special Olympics to cheer them on.”

The Order of the C raises money by running concession stands for the men’s varsity basketball team. They also hold a fundraiser during which they sell items and receive donations from varsity athletes who have graduated from the University.

Freeman said that the Order of the C tries to get male athletes to attend or volunteer during the Olympics. “We wear Maroon paraphernalia so the kids from A.O. Sexton can see us and so they know we’re from the University,” he said. “A lot of the students like seeing college athletes there.”

“It really helps us as athletes to see what kind of impact we have with these kids. They think we’re the same kind of athletes they’d see on TV,” Freeman said. “I think it’s a good, humbling experience for some of the people here. I think we get in our little shell and don’t really realize how much of an impact you can make for the community.”

Both athletic organizations hold clinics and events during the Olympics. Derstine said that the Special Olympics is mostly track and field events, including a100-meter run, a 200 meter-run, a relay, hurdles, a standing long jump, and a softball throw — which is like the shot-put. “I know one of the Avalon Park kids won the softball throw,” she said.

DeLopst said that the University community is very involved in Special Olympics. “I think the University generally gets a good turnout — it’s a hard event to miss. It’s pretty big every year. People generally hear the noise from the loudspeakers and walk by to see what’s going on and hopefully some of them actually go in and sit down in the stands or stop by a volunteer table and sign up and get involved,” she said. “A lot of RSOs try to do things, as well as sports teams,” she said.

Derstine hopes that more of the University community will participate in the future. “Our biggest challenge is to get more of the student population to participate,” Derstine said. “We were out at Summer Breeze handing out popcorn and a lot of people didn’t even know what Special Olympics are.”

“It’s really easy to volunteer. You just go and sign up and they give you a tea shirt and assign you to a team,” Derstine said.

Special Olympics, which offers community-based and traditional Special Olympics programs for athletes with mental retardation or closely related developmental disabilities, has been holding competitions in Illinois since 1968. This week’s event is one of approximately 175 annual competitions within in the state.