More than 200 Special Olympians and their families came to Niagara University’s Kiernan Recreation Center on April 27 to participate in the Special Olympics New York’s Western Regional Basketball Tournament. The event began with an opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m. and concluded with team and skills awards.

Niagara University has hosted this tournament since 2006, when Dr. Chandra Foote, dean of the College of Education, developed the Special Olympics: Games and Event Management course, an interdisciplinary collaboration between the colleges of Education and Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management. Students in the course learn about the nature of children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities and train them to compete in the tournament in preparation to plan and host the competition, which is the culminating experience for the course.

"A key tenet of the Niagara University mission is to inspire our students to serve all members of society, especially the poor and marginalized," said Dr. Dennis Garland, associate professor of education, who teaches the course. "I am very humbled and proud to partner with Special Olympics New York and other Western New York community members to provide our athletes with opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with each other and the community."

Over the years, the tournament has grown into a university-wide event, with members of the academic and athletic sectors and a variety of students clubs and organizations participating.

Special Olympics is an international organization with a mission to help people with developmental and intellectual disabilities participate as productive and respected members of society. Athletes are offered a fair opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through sports training and competition, and to increase the public’s awareness of their capabilities and needs.