Berea College student athletes stand ready to measure the long jump of a Special Olympics athlete during the 2016 Berea Games. Members of every College athletic team worked to make the Berea Games a fun and memorable event for these athletes, who participated in track and field, baseball and soccer events that day.
(Photo: Sonya Petroski)

Berea College Student-Athletes Serve with Special Olympics

Berea College student athletes balance a busy schedule—completing coursework, working 10 or more hours per week in labor positions and competing in collegiate-level sports. Despite their hectic schedules, they make a commitment to serve in several community service events, one being their involvement with the Special Olympics. Through their service, they are able to impact the lives and experiences of Special Olympic participants, and often find their own lives also are profoundly influenced.

Berea Games Special Olympics parade 2016
The 2016 Berea Games kicked off with an opening ceremony parade. Berea’s 225 student athletes celebrated and welcomed the Special Olympics athletes.

Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) President Tyler Pope ’18, a baseball player at Berea College, coordinated community events for Berea’s student-athletes. One of his biggest challenges was matching the busy Berea College student schedules with the Special Olympics events. Pope routinely reminded student athletes of the upcoming events and stressed the importance of attending these Special Olympics events.

“Berea College student athletes are really busy,” Pope said. “This event starts out as just a checkmark in their schedule, but turns into a passion to work with the Special Olympics.”

After an event, Pope would receive comments from student athletes, thanking him for coordinating the event and giving them that unique opportunity. Pope enjoyed seeing the impact service had on his fellow students, but working with the Special Olympics has made a difference in his life, too.

“The major realization of working with the Special Olympics is that I have taken so much in life for granted, especially the chance to actively play sports,” Pope said. “Special Olympic athletes always express their happiness
to play sports at these events, and more importantly, they give their best effort.”

In September 2015, Berea College moved from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division III. The NCAA requires each member institution to maintain a Student Athletic Advisory Committee to identify significant student-athlete issues; implement student-athlete based initiatives; encourage community outreach; and invest leadership responsibilities with the student athletes. At the national level, the SAAC is also the committee that is primarily responsible for maintaining and coordinating the nationwide partnership of the NCAA Division III with Special Olympics.

“Working with Special Olympics can be life changing,” said Assistant Athletic Director Ryan Hess ’98. “It is inspiring to see our student athletes, staff and faculty of the College’s athletic department help with Special Olympics events. Watching their enthusiasm for sports and commitment to service come to life as they interact with Special Olympics athletes makes me proud of them and the way they represent the College.”

In spring 2016, Berea College hosted the Berea Games for local Special Olympics athletes. Nearly all of Berea’s 225 student athletes participated in the event, helping do everything from preparing the fields for play, transporting athletes to various events, recording stats and serving refreshments. Most importantly, Berea’s student athletes spent time encouraging, motivating and celebrating the athletes competing in the Berea Games that day.

The intangible effects of working with the Special Olympics has been recorded through the comments, efforts and smiles of all involved.

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