The Olympics were held at Trine? Yes, you heard that right!
A Special Olympics Track Invitational was held at Trine University on April 19, 2015 in the ARC, also known as the Keith E. Busse Athletic and Recreation Center. The event started at 12:30 p.m. and lasted until approximately 3 p.m. with a pizza party for the participants held afterward. Admission was free but donations were accepted.
The event was coordinated by Jan Wilson, a Special Olympics coordinator for Northern Indiana, and a current adjunct professor at Trine. Wilson worked as a special education teacher for nearly 32 years with the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County (MSD). She has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1974. She has said that the event brings her joy. According to KPCN News Jan Wilson asserted, “Special Olympics is as much teaching as it is socialization…It provides socialization and camaraderie that each athlete treasures. With socialization and competition, Special Olympics takes kids outside Steuben County.”
Phi Kappa Theta and Theta Phi Alpha sponsored the Special Olympics Invitational Track Meet; they are involved in this Special Olympics event at the university annually.
There were athletes from multiple counties in Indiana. They represented the counties of Steuben, Allen, DeKalb, and Huntington. The athletes competed in multiple races such as the 50M and 4x100M relay, and in other sports such as softball throw, running long jump, and javelin, just to name a few.
This event brings together many different members of the community to support these athletes, giving them not a “special” day but a normal one filled with sports and friends. The Special Olympics Invitational was not only a wonderful time for children with special needs, but was also a wonderful time for the parents as well. Parents were able to cheer on their child and also their team as they competed.
Parents lined the sides of the ARC at Trine University watching their children participate in track and field activities. After each activity the children ran up to their parents, jumping up and down with pride that they earned a ribbon. The parents were as happy as the athletes, hugging and celebrating each victory with their child. Clay, a 16-year-old young man from the Allen county team had his dad, Neal, with him through every event. When asked, Neal said that he enjoys the Special Olympics because, “It gives kids with special needs the ability to do a normal activity without judgment and it promotes good sportsmanship.” Neal further explained that, “We have been participating in the Special Olympics for three years and plan on doing it for as long as Clay wants to.” Clay says that the Special Olympics are, “Fun because I like to run.”
To prepare for the event Neal explained that the Allen County team held practices at least once a week to get the kids ready for the event. During the practices the children were able to go and decide which event they wanted to participate in and then practice for the event accordingly, like throwing the softball, doing the long jump and running or walking for the races.
Another family cheered and rooted on their daughter as she participated in the Special Olympic events at the Track Invitational at Trine University. Sarah, a 10-year-old girl from DeKalb County came back for her second year in the Special Olympics with her stepmother Jody who supported her. Jody described the Special Olympics as, “A chance to be a part of something big, and it also gives Sarah a chance to be in a sport like any other child. We plan on doing this for as long as Sarah would want to, as long as she still enjoys it.” Jody kept a very close eye on her stepdaughter while also looking after two older children who were not part of the Special Olympics. Every time Sarah would go up for an event Jody would be watching and rooting Sarah on. Sarah explains why she likes the Special Olympics, “I like to run and I like the ribbons.”
The Special Olympics gives not only the children with special needs a chance to feel normal, but it also gives the parents who have children with special needs a chance to feel normal as well. The parents get to see their children having fun and acting like “normal” peers their age, while the children get to learn how to do different sporting events and also learn great sportsmanship. Parents and athletes were not the only ones showing amazing sportsmanship during the Special Olympics; members of Phi Kappa Theta and Theta Phi Alpha also showed up to cheer everyone on.
Fraternity Phi Kappa Theta and sorority Theta Phi Alpha assisted at the Special Olympics and explained that these events possess so many different meaning for so many different people and organizations. Phi Kappa Theta brothers sponsor the Special Olympics at Trine University each year for their philanthropy event, and it was exciting to watch fraternity brothers come together to help for such a great cause.
Before attending this event, many people had their own preconceived ideas about how this event would pan out, assuming that the races would be more of a field-day experience for the participants. Instead this event resembled a traditional track meet. The participants were serious about their races and were eager to run. Students who were helping out that day were very organized and professional, making the day feel even more like a traditional track meet. This altered many people’s initial impression of the Special Olympics. There was team bonding and sportsmanship, there were some participants who were nervous, and there was a lot of competitiveness. To these participants with special needs, this event was of the up-most importance and, it was remarkable to watch Trine students take part in it.
Phi Kappa Theta’s President Tyler Bourdo explained in more detail why this event is important to their fraternity and what they do to help out. He says that they have been doing this event for around 20 years, so the real reason they picked this event is unknown. Bourdo stated, “It was said that back in the ‘90s, our advisor really pushed for us to do this as our annual philanthropy event and we have done it ever since.” When asked about what they do to help fundraiser, he explains that Jan Wilson, the woman who runs the event does most of the fundraiser, but they try to help out as much as they can locally. “During the spring, our vice president is required to work with Jan to schedule a day for the event, help advertise, and get any items that are needed for the day.” Bourdo continued by saying that all the brothers are required to be there to help, but each year they look forward to it and love being a part this wonderful event.
Logan Lindsley, a sophomore and track runner at Trine University is a current member of Phi Kappa Theta and helped out at the Special Olympics this year. Talking to him prior to the start of the events that day, he appeared nervous but eager to help out. During the day, he worked at the long jump area because he is a long jumper himself. When asked how being an athlete shaped his views on this event, Logan said, “The day was eye-opening because I get to do these events every single day, but for these participants, this is one of the few times they can compete in a real sport-like setting.” This year is his first year helping out and he plans on helping again next year. He said, “Every time a kid would jump better than the time before, they would get so excited and give me high-fives. It was nice to watch them support each other and enjoy doing an event that I get to do every day. It was just awesome to share that with them.”
Ryleigh Gordon, a current member of Theta Phi Alpha, also helped out at the Special Olympics this year. This was her first year doing this and said that she was very excited about it. She explained in more detail by asserting, “Our sorority likes to help Phi Kappa Theta with this event because we know there is a lot to do and we have been helping for the past three years.” She said that this isn’t their philanthropy event but they still like to get involved. Talking to Ryleigh after the event, I asked her what she did and she said, “I passed out ribbons to the winners and it was great to see their reactions. It didn’t matter if it was 1st or 5th place. They were all so excited to get their ribbon.” Ryleigh is ready to come back next year.
Kappa Sigma Alpha, another sorority at Trine University, had some of their members come to the Special Olympics to cheer on the participants. Julia DeBelly, a Kappa Sigma Alpha sister, said, “We really wanted to come and support the participants as well as supporting Phi Kappa Theta and Theta Phi Alpha because it shows Greek unity. When one Greek organization supports a great cause, it’s important to support them for doing it.” Julia says that it was an enjoyable event and she can’t wait to come and support it again next year.
The Special Olympics not only builds a strong network within the special needs community but also through the parents and Greek life at Trine University. Many communities come together to demonstrate sportsmanship for the special needs participants, giving them a chance to feel a part of a normal athletic event. This is what the Special Olympics Angola Track Invitational strives to deliver.