April 9, 2012
By Ryan O'Keefe
|The Athletes for Athletes program provides Concordia student-athletes and SOTX athletes a chance to celebrate their common joy of sports.|
NCAA Division III Special Olympics Partnership
“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.”
Nestled on 389 beautiful Hill Country acres in Austin sits Concordia University, a highly respected Division III school that has developed a unique relationship with Special Olympics Texas. The university has transformed its community service driven student-athletes into rabid fans of Special Olympics Texas.
“What makes it so special is the fact that both athletes (Concordia and Special Olympics Texas) inspire each other,” said Concordia Sports Information Director Matthew Chmura.
It all started with a volunteer commitment to keep score at Special Olympics softball games during the summer. Chmura took the initial step into the addictive pattern of being a repeat volunteer. He signed up to volunteer and immediately signed on as competition director for a local SOTX flag football competition.
It wasn’t hard enticing student-athletes to join him in putting on the flag football competition. The school prides itself on community service and its athletes are dedicated towards giving back to the community. Chmura says it was even harder trying to tell people there were enough volunteers.
|Concordia Baseball Player Jacob Spelbring volunteers at a local SOTX bowling competition. He is one of several dozen student-athletes that volunteer at area competitions.|
“We had so many wanting to be involved that I had to create a waiting list,” said Chmura.
Concordia student-athlete Dalaine Whitlock believes that Special Olympics athletes and Division III athletes share a common trait: passion.
Dalaine, who also serves as president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee at Concordia, helped create a new program called ‘Athletes for Athletes’, which partners student-athletes with Special Olympics Texas athletes. The program enables every sports team at the university to set aside a day to host Special Olympics Texas athletes in a variety of activities such as a unified basketball scrimmage, introductions at baseball and softball games and a volleyball skills challenge.
Many of the student-athletes have in turn become volunteers at other local Special Olympics competitions.
“It’s very addictive. Once you get them (Concordia athletes) to the first event, that’s it. They are hooked,” said Whitlock.
You can see that passion for the Special Olympics Texas athlete in every activity they take part in. At a recent volleyball skills challenge, Concordia athletes were giving shirts to SOTX athletes who were able to serve a volleyball that landed on a shirt. One Special Olympics Texas athlete was struggling to get a shirt and wanted one badly.
“All of sudden, you see all the student-athletes (Concordia) get together and put all the shirts in one area so that the SOTX athlete could serve and not miss hitting a shirt. He had the biggest smile ever after getting that shirt,” said Chmura.
“We want to be a part of something special here (Concordia). We are starting some new traditions and one of them is being involved with Special Olympics,” said Whitlock.
As the school year wraps up, Matt and Dalaine begin talking about how they’ve gotten better at putting on Athlete for Athlete Days. They quickly transition into how to make the flag football competition bigger and better.
“It’s so rewarding and fulfilling to work with the Special Olympics Texas athletes. It’s not often that you see someone else with as much passion for sports as yourself,” said Dalaine.
It’s not often that you hear a college athlete talk about Special Olympics athletes as their peers.
For something that started off as a partnership, it sure has turned into a great relationship.
(Watch the video below of Dalaine talking about the positive impac the partnership has had on student-athletes.)