Special Olympians enter Niagara University's Kiernan Center during last year's opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics New York Western Regional Basketball Tournament.

What would have been the 15th annual Special Olympics New York’s Western Regional Basketball Tournament on the Niagara University campus was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that didn’t mean that the student coaches and their extraordinary athletes ended their relationship. Instead, the students have used the #Fit5NY Facebook page to post workout routines, healthy recipes, and encourage one another to stay fit and motivated.  

“Consistency and relationships are especially important to the athletes who our coaches work with every week during the spring season,” said Dr. Dennis Garland, assistant professor of education. “Since we can’t meet personally, our coaches are posting encouraging and creative ways to keep the energy positive for the athletes and everyone participating in the #Fit5NY program. In addition, many of the athletes have coaches who are their favorites, and vice versa. Our coaches are creating ‘shout-out’ videos directed at specific athletes who will receive the video link from either their teacher or service provider.”

Conceived by Dr. Chandra Foote, dean of Niagara University’s College of Education, Special Olympics: Coaching and Games Management is designed for students in both the College of Education and the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and taught by Dr. Garland. The course is a communitywide collaboration across multiple university partners who serve individuals with developmental disabilities. Every party had to adapt to a new way of work within their respective organizations due to the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but the understanding that their common mission was to serve the athletes was never lost, Garland said. 

“We are all disappointed that we could not host the Special Olympics NY Western Region Basketball Tournament this year,” he said. “However, all things considered, we are still grateful to be able to have the means by which we can remain connected while maintaining safety for these vulnerable individuals and our coaches.”

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