(This article was written by Special Olympics Maryland athlete RJ Nealon who attends the University of Alabama. RJ also plays Unified sports for the University of Alabama. This story is reproduced with his permission. It was originally posted on on his blog site )
Disabilities, they put limits on people and people put barriers up with those who have them. The Special Olympics changes that and so does The University of Alabama through sports.
The unified and intramural sports at the university partnered with Special Olympics Alabama in hopes of breaking barriers and bringing people closer together.
Ivan Bailey, president of Special Olympics college UA, has a goal of bringing athletes and students together as one through the program.
“This year we have about twenty athletes”, said Bailey. “I am excited about trying to expand our cheerleading team, and having them on our sidelines during the games.”
This fall, the program will be going head to head on the gridiron with Ole Miss and Auburn.
“We have so many athletes we are having Ole Miss bring two teams so all the athletes can play,” said Bailey.
Tori Capraro, a volunteer with the program, says she does it for the joy and happiness the athletes bring her.
“The reason I stay involved with the Special Olympics sparks from my older sister who has a disability. She joined Special Olympics and competed in horseback and dance,” said Capraro.
With the joy, and happiness, Capraro loves being with the athletes on a weekly basis.
“My favorite part about Special Olympics is getting to interact with the athletes. They have the biggest hearts and are always so excited to be involved in whatever activities we are doing,” said Capraro.
As the semester gets rolling and the program heats up, plans are set for the year.
“I’m excited for the NIRSA (National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association) basketball tournament at The Ohio State University,” said Bailey.
Teams from all across the country travel to play in a tournament over a weekend in April. During the 2015 school year, Alabama’s Special Olympics won the National Championships. The National Championships is a three-day tournament. Teams first play for seeding and then play for the elimination rounds.
However, in 2016, they made it to the final four before losing to a tough Central Michigan squad they beat the year before.
Ally Weller, a student at Alabama and supporter of the program, said she enjoys watching the athletes compete and most of all have fun.
“I love the whole experience, the crowd is so supportive and the athletes are clearly passionate about the sports,” said Weller.
The new year means new hopes, dreams, and goals. The program has goals to continue growing and adding more athletes as well as volunteers.
“I am hoping with more athletes; the word gets spread around more and the program gets a lot bigger. With how big our school is the sky is the limit as to the number of people we can get involved,” said Capraro.
As disabilities set barriers, and limits, The University of Alabama and Special Olympics see none of that. Whether it’s an athlete of Special Olympics or a volunteer who’s a student at Alabama, there is no difference, they are all the same. They are athletes.
Everyone gets that once in a lifetime college experience being a part of the program in Tuscaloosa.
This article was written by Special Olympics Maryland