York College Hosts Special Olympians for a Day of Sport, Smiles, and Dunk Tanks
After a two-year hiatus, Spartan athletes welcomed their Special Olympics York County counterparts back to campus to celebrate their shared passion: sport.
In some ways, the event that York College of Pennsylvania hosted for Special Olympics Pennsylvania Team York athletes this spring was just like past Special Olympics York County Spring Games. Athletes tested their skills in a variety of sports, medals were awarded to all, and high-fives were shared.
What was less traditional was the type of sports featured. Dunk tank, corn hole, and soccer ball bowling were among the most popular.
The event was Spring Spree, the first major athletic outing for York County’s Special Olympians in two years. It was planned, staffed, and operated in large part by York College students and athletes.
Grins spread from ear to ear as the Special Olympics athletes arrived at the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center for registration on the morning of Spring Spree.
“Seeing the reaction of everyone coming back, that’s kind of how my team was when we got to see each other after quarantine,” said Brenna Keener ’22 (Stafford, Virginia), a York College golfer and one of three students who planned the event as part of a senior project.
The coronavirus pandemic had prevented the Special Olympians from training for the competition. So instead of hosting the traditional Spring Games with events such as track and field, swimming, and tennis as was done for eight years, the York College Student Athlete Advisory Committee worked with Special Olympics York County to create an alternative event to bring the athletes together for a day of fun and sport.
“There was definitely a lot of excitement,” said Matt Day ’02/M.Ed. ’14, York College Associate Athletic Director. “I think the Special Olympics athletes were just excited to be back and doing something.”
Brenna, a Recreation Administration major, and her classmates were tasked with choosing inclusive events for the Special Olympians. Modifications such as adding sound to guide athletes with visual impairments and using a lower basketball hoop for athletes in wheelchairs meant everyone could compete.
“Having to see how they have to do certain activities made me feel grateful, but also impressed,” says Brenna. “I was in awe of those athletes.”
“Understanding what it is to be inclusive and have that perspective, I think that’s one of the things our college athletes get from this experience,” Day said. He points out that York College wants to help its students be excellent athletes and students, “but the most important thing is that they’re great people.”
Smiles all around
About 160 York College student-athletes set up and staffed the 10 event stations, including the most popular activity of the day, the dunk tank. It featured a lot of splashing by the York College athletes and a fair amount of good-natured trash-talking by the Special Olympians.
“I’ve never seen that many people hit the target,” Brenna says of the dunk tank.
She spent most of the day at the bowling station, where teammates cheered on and encouraged one another.
“That kind of team bonding, seeing all the athletes do that at this event was really cool,” she says.
Again and again, Day heard from the student-athletes how much they enjoyed the event.
“It’s just one of those things where you walk away feeling good about everything,” he says.
Brenna had a smile plastered on her face the entire day.
“It was definitely a very positive experience and something I’m never going to forget from my college experience,” she says.