Special Olympics weekend shines

Matthew Minnella

Like many colleges across the country, Fridays at Villanova generally mean the start of the weekend and some time to relax and have a good time.

This past weekend, however, Friday also signaled the start of something that makes Villanova unique: the 18th annual Special Olympics Fall Festival.

Fall Festival 2006, themed “Play Your Heart Out,” spanned the entire weekend, bringing over 2,000 athletes and coaches from counties all across Pennsylvania to compete in their respective sports.

The Fall Festival committee this year consisted of 83 members, with senior Danica Feustel as the festival’s director, senior Meghan Murphy as director of competition, senior Lauren Rumsey as director of human resources, senior Melissa Weigel as director of special events, junior Mallory Karl as director of support services and junior Jennifer Park as director of administration.

Early Friday afternoon, a VIP reception was held for sponsors and supporters who gave various donations and contributed to the festival.

Dick Vermeil, former NFL head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, hosted the event.

The key points of Vermeil’s speech focused on keeping positive people around, always doing the right thing and how doing both would lead to success.

Afterwards, participants arrived on campus to take part in the Festival’s Opening Ceremonies.

Held in the Pavilion, the Opening Ceremonies officially marked the beginning of the weekend’s competition.

The Olympic torch was lit by several of the athletes following a procession of the participants into the ceremony with their respective counties.

The ceremony featured notable guest speakers, such as former Philadelphia Eagle Cecil Martin, who welcomed the athletes and offered words of inspiration.

Other speakers included John Clark from NBC-10 Sports, President of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Janine Cesare and Feustel.

University President the Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., gave a blessing to the athletes and coaches.

Formal competition began early Saturday morning at various venues on campus and in the surrounding area.

While many counties from Pennsylvania were represented at the festival, only those teams who qualified in sectional games in their respective sports came to campus to compete.

Soccer, volleyball, power lifting and long distance running were all held at various locations around campus, while bocce and roller-skating were held off campus.

The roller-skating events, consisting of artistic, roller hockey and speed skating, were held at Skate 309, approximately 30-40 minutes away from campus.

Bocce, Special Olympics’ fastest growing sport, was held for the first time at Fall Festival at the nearby Shipley School.

Since the competition was held at Shipley, event coordinators were able to hold the event indoors, something they had been wanting to do.

The Shipley School, a private coeducational school for grades K-12, provided its own version of Olympic Town and helped facilitate the bocce event. Aside from the athletic competition, the Fall Festival had much more to offer participants.

One of the highlights of the Special Olympics at Villanova is the Olympic Town, or O-Town, located in the Quad. O-Town featured fun activities and music for the participants and their families to enjoy.

Provided by over 70 different student groups from Villanova, O-Town featured activities such as balloon animals, a DJ, karaoke and various arts and crafts.

Chrissy Quisenberry, advisor for Special Olympics, expressed her joy and excitement for this year’s festival.

She also said that O-Town is where the University community really shines because it is where students get to interact with athletes.

“It is one of the things that makes Villanova stand out during the weekend,” she said. “The atmosphere there makes a huge difference for the athletes.”

Later on Saturday, a Victory Dance was held for all the athletes, giving them a chance to have a good time and socialize with other athletes and several committee members.

The weekend finally came to a close on Sunday after the final competitions took place for each sport.

The Closing Ceremony was held early Sunday afternoon, where the Olympic flame was extinguished and a highlight video was shown of the weekend’s competition.

Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan, two of the three tri-captains of the men’s basketball team, spoke to the athletes about winning and having a positive attitude.

Overall, Quisenberry said the event was a success and, as in past years, the students greatly impressed her with their ability to put on the festival, keep each other motivated and make the weekend a success.

She also expressed much gratitude to Facilities, Dining Services and Athletics, as well as all of the committee members and volunteers for doing their part in the event.