Special Olympics celebrates 20th annual Fall Festival

Cathryn Carrubba

Villanova hosted the 20th annual Special Olympics Fall Festival last weeekend, featuring over 1,000 athletes from all over Pennsylvania.Athletes competed in bocce, long-distance running, roller skating, soccer, power lifting and volleyball. Every athlete received some sort of prize, from medals for first through third-place winners to ribbons for those who placed from fourth to eighth place. All athletes also received participation ribbons.Most events were held at various locations on campus. However, bocce was held at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, and roller skating was located at the International Sports, Skating and Fun Center in Cherry Hill, N.J. The athletes were chosen from sectionals and qualifying rounds from East, West and Central Pennsylvania, which occurred prior to the Fall Festival. In addition, athletes had to meet three qualifying requirements: they had to be older than age 8, have an IQ below 120 and have a disability which was diagnosed before age 8.The Villanova student body enthusiastically turned out for the weekend’s festivities. Over 3,000 students volunteered in some capacity, such as serving as officials, athlete escorts and awards presenters. Many student groups turned out members to volunteer, such as members of Greek Life.”The most difficult part of my job was finding opportunities for the volunteers to volunteer,” said senior Shannon Phillips, director of Human Resources for Special Olympics. “The committee did such a good job recruiting people to come help.””The weekend was awesome,” said senior Competition Chair Kaitlin McQuade. “The athletes were pumped, and the volunteers were excited. My favorite part of the weekend was getting to know the athletes. That’s what it’s all about.”The weekend was marred by a Saturday rainstorm, which fell during the heart of the festivities in Olympic Town (located in the Quad). However, people remained in the Quad for the celebrations, and the Irish dancers danced in the rain.”The rain was the only problem,” McQuade said. “However, everyone adjusted smoothly. The soccer committee pulled it together and moved their events over to Pike Lot.”Senior Erin Kuchar, special events chair, said the planning committee had considered moving Olympic Town to a rain location underneath the Student Health Center but instead decided to remain in the Quad despite the uncooperative weather.”Special Olympics went really well,” Kuchar said. “My favorite part of the weekend was dancing with the athletes in Olympic Town and seeing them having a good time. My birthday was on Sunday, and the athletes sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and treated me like a celebrity.”As special events chair, Kuchar was responsible for organizing the opening and closing ceremonies, the victory dance and parade, various awards presentations, entertainment in Olympic Town and the dining halls and the Healthy Athletes program in Bartley Hall. Because of the milestone 20th anniversary this year, Kuchar planned more entertainment than in years previous, including appearances by the Phillie Phanatic and Darryl Dawkins, a former Philadelphia 76ers player noted for shattering backboards during games. In addition, the Media Committee worked to further publicize the event in honor of its 20th anniversary. “The committee was able to get the banner of the Peco Building in Philadelphia to congradulate Special Olympics all the week before the competition,” Phillips said. “They also had NBC 10 host a live feed from campus at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.”The Special Olympics Fall Festival is the largest annual student-run Special Olympics in the world. Planning for this year’s events began in December 2007 when the first positions were given out. The committees worked throughout the summer and increased their intensity through the weeks leading up to the festival.In addition, 80 freshmen were selected as Local Program Hosts to follow a county of athletes around all weekend, get to know them and cheer for them. “The best moment for me was when a head of delegation personally complemented me on the LPH program,” Phillips said. “She said the way the commuity reaches out and genuinely care is incredible.”Special Olympics of Pennsylvania also holds other events in the spring and summer. Fall Festival is its second largest event of the year.