Approximately 250 Special Olympians were greeted by volunteers, first responders, and athletes as they entered Niagara University’s Kiernan Recreation Center for the 2019 Special Olympics New York’s Western Regional Basketball Tournament on April 27. The annual event, which NU has hosted since 2006, is the culminating experience for students who take the Special Olympics: Coaching and Games Management course (EDU 333/HRT 333).
Adam Page, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist in sled hockey, served as emcee for the opening ceremonies, and North Tonawanda School Board member and city police officer Eric “The Bull” Herbert, a King of the Cage MMA champion, distributed medals during the awards ceremony. The Rev. James Maher, C.M., Niagara University president, provided the invocation for the event.
Conceived by Dr. Chandra Foote, dean of Niagara University’s College of Education, the course, which is designed for students in both the College of Education and the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, is taught by Dr. Dennis Garland, assistant professor of education.
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.
“My favorite experience about this class was working with my students, because I was a team coach, (so) I really got to know them,” said education major Sara Braun. “It was really rewarding to see how much progression and achievements that the team was able to do. Through this experience, we were able to give the students an opportunity to show off their skills and to be treated like all of our other athletes are treated, and they were able to actively participate in a team event.”
“I decided to take this class because of my major; however, I never expected to have gained this much experience in the class,” said Karlie Schiffler, an event and meeting management major. “One of my favorite parts of planning and executing this event is seeing all the smiling faces throughout the day. Seeing the athletes and their families so happy to be there makes all of the work we did as coaches completely worth it.”
"A key tenet of the Niagara University mission is to inspire our students to serve all members of society, especially the poor and marginalized," Garland said. "We are fortunate to have incredible partners like Special Olympics New York. I am very humbled and proud of all of the Western New York community members who partner with the university. This event is a culmination of a collective effort to provide the 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."