How the “Wild Wild Fest” was fun

Cheryl McEvoy

Despite the whipping wind, there were no tumbleweeds in the Quad last weekend. But the cowboy tunes, sheriff badges and covered wagons made Villanova a home on the range. The annual Special Olympics Fall Festival brought athletes to campus and smiles to everyone’s faces with the theme “Wild West Fest.” And while volunteers couldn’t avoid the inevitable shiver, no one could deny the warmth in the air.”It makes me so excited to be with these people,” freshman mathematics major Kelsey Yasak said. “They’re so happy; they make you happy.”Yasak, who worked with special education programs at her high school, volunteered as a local program host. She accompanied the Beaver County team throughout the day. “This is what people are supposed to be doing – helping each other,” she said, looking around.Serving as the Olympic Village, the Quad boasted rows of booths, sports activities and a petting zoo. A welcome banner stretched across the entrance, featuring a lone cowboy against an orange sunset. Cacti cutouts, a wandering Woody and a sheriff on stilts rounded out the Western theme. Athletes gathered to play games and make crafts, their uniforms creating a rainbow of attire ranging from navy sweatshirts to bright red jumpsuits. The usual Storm Troopers and ABATE biker crowd were at their posts in front of Bartley Hall, where a pumping bass kept the dance parties going. A few athletes held purple, turquoise and green balloons. But not just any balloons – they were palm trees.Even Festival Director Jennifer Park got in on the celebration. Hustling around campus, she still found time to score the perfect addition to her headset – a black-and-white cow balloon.Perhaps the biggest attraction in Olympic Village was the karaoke booth. Athletes lined up to show their singing chops, while audiences whooped and hollered. An athlete from the North Umberland/Snyder team, Amanda, couldn’t help singing along to the tunes while waiting her turn. “I’m going to be doing ‘We’re All in this Together’ from ‘High School Musical,’ ” she said.She couldn’t pick a favorite part of the weekend. “I like all of it,” Amanda said.On Alumni Field, the soccer games proved to be intense competition. Spectators zipped up jackets, tightened hoods and jogged in place while watching the games. But the athletes showed no sign of the cold as they thundered up and down the field. Eyes glued to the ball, they made high kicks and sideways passes. Even after an exhausting half, they hustled over to their coaches. Montgomery County won its game in overtime, thanks to a goal from team member Billy. “There’s just such an incredible spirit for this event and such an amount of acceptance and warmth,” said Judy Wallace, who co-coaches the Montgomery County team. Wallace first got involved in Special Olympics when she worked at the state Special Olympics office. When she left that job, she took up coaching. This year marks her eighth Fall Festival.”It’s really all about the team,” she said. “They form the bond year after year and season after season.”As they walked to lunch, the team members hugged each other and high-fived. Some patted Billy on the back and announced, “He got the winning goal!” “I like working with my teammates,” said Montgomery County team member Dan, who scored a goal in their first game of the day. Dan said he likes being on campus, and his favorite part of the Fall Festival is the Victory Dance. The Saturday night dance invites athletes to let loose and make new friends.Senior nursing major Anne Stevens also considers the Victory Dance the best part of the weekend.”It’s a great time for [the athletes] to interact with the committees and other athletes in a non-competitive way,” she said.Stevens began volunteering for SPO when she served as a freshman LPH. This year, she was computers chairperson. “I just like the enthusiasm [the athletes] have for the sport and for each other and for the environment Villanova provides,” she said.Like Yasak and Stevens, international business and marketing major Sean Patrick Coady began his involvement as an LPH. Now, the simple utterance of “Special Olympics” makes the junior’s eyes light up.”I fell in love with everything about it,” he said. “It’s so inspiring seeing the athletes. They bring such happiness. They’re so talented.”Coady served on the Special Events Entertainment Committee this year, which organized the Olympic Village and Victory Dance. But his favorite memory, he said, was when he volunteered as an awards assistant last year.”During the award ceremony – that’s the climax,” he said. Coady was able to meet almost every athlete and hear their stories. He said he was most impressed with how proud the athletes were of themselves and of each other.”It doesn’t matter what [ribbon] they get,” he said. “It’s just the feeling of accomplishment.”The high spirits were hard to miss, even for first-time volunteers.”I haven’t heard one negative comment from an athlete,” said Ralph Gigliotti, who was volunteering at his first Fall Festival. A first-year graduate assistant for student development, Gigliotti served as an evaluator, who looks for ways to improve the Festival next year. But so far, so good.”They are just loving it,” he said.Gigliotti said he was looking forward to the awards presentation.”The weekend may come to an end, but memories will always be there for Villanovans,” he said.And that’s what made the “Wild Wild Fest” so fun.