LEXINGTON, Va. – Washington and Lee University, in unison with like-minded initiatives set forth by the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and NCAA Division III, is announcing a partnership with the Special Olympics.
The 2011-12 school year will be the first in what the school believes will be a long-lasting relationship with the organization. The University will begin its Special Olympics programs with grassroots initiatives aimed at providing local Special Olympics organizers increased support and facilities with which to conduct events.
“I am thrilled to announce this partnership with Special Olympics and to be part of building a relationship with this outstanding organization through our institution, the ODAC and the NCAA,” said Washington and Lee Athletic Director Jan Hathorn. “It's a natural fit for an institution like W&L to work beside, and serve the needs of, the local Special Olympic athletes, for we have so much to offer them by way of our outstanding facilities and students. I was energized and enthusiastic after our meeting with Special Olympics Virginia, where we decided to use this first year to build a foundation of collaboration through a few small events sponsored by SAAC and 23, with the goal of hosting a culminating event during the spring sports season. It is our intention to sustain this relationship over the long term, and I believe we can achieve that goal.”
A campaign to pair the Special Olympics with Division III Institutions began with a meeting of the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee in 2008 and 2009 and established support for the program on the conference level. The NCAA National SAAC moved the partnership to the national level when they announced their intentions at the January 2011 NCAA Convention.
The purpose of the partnership is to improve the lives of Special Olympics athletes through their involvement with Division III student-athletes and to foster a mutual learning experience between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes.
Through this partnership, Division III student-athletes across the country are encouraged to participate in existing Special Olympics events, create their own events, or otherwise serve to support local Special Olympics organizations. The activities pursued by student-athletes will vary in each state and region, tailored to best utilize the student-athletes' time and local resources.
This partnership provides the opportunity for student-athletes to engage with Special Olympics and collaborate with existing student-led programs on campus. The ODAC announced its partnership with Special Olympics Virginia and Washington and Lee administrators met with local and state coordinators to discuss its plans for involvement with the organization.
“I am very excited about our partnership with Washington and Lee University,” said local Special Olympics organizer Michelle Hughes. “W&L is a big part of our Rockbridge Special Olympics family and we are all grateful for the tremendous support we continue to receive. With the commitment of the athletic department we will be able to add more sports, athletes, and events. More importantly, our athletes will have a chance to mingle with and be mentored by collegiate players.”
Hughes added, “It is important for others to see our folks as part of the community and to recognize the determination, intelligence, and skill each player has. Special Olympics Virginia has three main goals: Respect, Inclusion, and Unity. Involvement with collegiate athletes can spark changes in attitudes, perceptions, and expectations. It will be exciting to see bonds formed through our new partnership.”
Special Olympics Virginia serves more than 10,000 athletes through seven regional offices and 29 area programs. It is one of 52 U.S. programs, and part of a global movement that serves three million athletes in more than 180 countries.
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