Special Olympians and their coaches with the Rev. James Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University; Dr. Dennis Garland, associate professor and Special Olympics course instructor; Michael Paglicci, ’16, associate director, Special Olympics New York Western Region; Beth Duncan, senior day supervisor of the People Inc. Young Adult Life Transitions program; and Stan Wojton, principal of Cataract Elementary School, Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Niagara University, which had hosted Special Olympics New York’s Western Regional Basketball Tournament every year since 2006, will host the event for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 competition. The Special Olympics event is a culminating experience for students who take the Special Olympics: Coaching and Games Management course (EDU 333/HRT 333) at Niagara University.

The course is taught by Dr. Dennis Garland, associate professor of education. Sections of the course are presented by the College of Education and others by the College of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management.

“I am beyond proud of how well our students fundraised, planned, practiced, studied, and poured their hearts into this event, all while managing the new challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Dr. Garland. “I am also very humbled by and proud of the Western New York community for partnering with Niagara University to help bring this event back.”

Special Olympics is widely known as an international organization with a mission to help persons 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.

Accordingly, the Special Olympics course at NU has multiple components, including:

  • Providing students with knowledge about the nature of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
  • Developing skills among teacher candidates to become certified Special Olympics coaches.
  • Training children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities to compete in the annual regional basketball tournament.
  • Planning and hosting a sanctioned Special Olympics regional basketball tournament.

About 125 Special Olympians will compete in this year’s event, which will be held on Saturday, April 30. The event will be held at Niagara Falls High School while renovations continue on the university’s Kiernan Center. Various Niagara University student organizations will be involved at Saturday’s event, including the Niagara University Student Government Association, Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, Purple Eagles athletics, the ROTC program, Danceline, Cheer Squad, and Monte the Eagle.

“It’s truly inspiring how much impact and influence our university has in bringing together the community on behalf of our members who deserve it the most,” added Dr. Garland. “I’m so proud to be part of this excellent institution and this event.”

Highlights from the press announcement.