Villanova Hosts 34th Annual Special Olympics


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

LPH’s cheer on athletes at Fall Festival this past weekend.

Elena Rouse, Co-Culture Editor

This past weekend, Villanova hosted its 34th Annual Special Olympics, the largest student run Special Olympics in the world. Starting on Friday, Nov. 4, the event boasted a myriad of athletic games throughout the weekend, bringing together athletes, the greater community and Villanova students. 

The event’s magnitude, with more than 1,200 athletes, 400 coaches and 5,000 volunteers, is unparalleled. Campus transforms from an academic space to a multisector sports arena, with different campus greens and large indoor spaces becoming competitive spaces for bocce, flag football, long-distance running/walking, powerlifting, roller skating, soccer and volleyball.

The entire ordeal, everything from funding, volunteer coordination, and the organization of each event, is crafted and executed by the Special Olympics Committee. The Committee is a group of elected Villanova Students, all of whom are heads of the weekend’s respective components and of other lower-level volunteers. Karoline Menze, a Villanova senior, acted as the head of it all as this year’s Festival Director. 

Menze spoke about Committee sections, and all the preparation that goes into the weekend.

“Planning for Fall Festival ensues over a ten-month period,” Menze said. “Over 100 committee members, among other volunteers, work year-round to plan all aspects of Fall Festival. Our large team is broken up into 5 subgroups: Competition, Human Resources, Special Events, Support Services, and Administration. Each has a focus on the athletes’ experience, from hotel arrangements, to a boisterous Opening Ceremonies, to seven different sporting events. Our Committee, along with Volunteer Coordinators, Local Program Hosts, and members of Inclusion Crew,  are dedicated to creating an environment that welcomes athletes with open-arms and celebrates their athletic accomplishments.”

Isaac Lewis, a senior and Volunteer Coordinator, explained his role this weekend.

“I was a Volunteer Coordinator for the volleyball competition,” Lewis said. “I organized where other volunteers were on the court or in the stands. I also organized and ran the scoring and made sure every job was filled for each game. My group also ran postgame interviews for the athletes. I was a Volunteer Coordinator for volleyball last year, so I got to see a lot of old friends competing this year, which was so cool to recognize and catch up with them. The energy at Jake Nevin for the volleyball competition was very high and the sound reverberated around the building. It was really special to see the athletes’ reactions to the hype.”

The weekend opened with some competitions on Friday afternoon, but it officially began Friday evening in the Finneran Pavilion for Opening Ceremonies. 

For the Opening, Villanova Community members gathered in the Pavilion’s seats to welcome in the many counties participating in the weekend. Holding banners and high fiving the Villanova Division I Athletic teams that lined the basketball court, the athletes showed up ready for the festivities. The night, featuring messages from community heads like Fr. Rob Hagan, and emceed by Villanova and NBC’s own Keith Jones and Dan Morales, was full of good sportsmanship and zeal. To top it off, Unified Sports, a national component of Special Olympics in which individuals with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same teams, had members from its Villanova chapter compete in a relay race. Each mini event represented the events for the weekend ahead. At the end of the ceremony, the torch was lit as a symbol for the weekend’s official start. 

Once the weekend commenced, it exuded community and competitive athletics. When walking around Special Olympics grounds, one could hear the cheers of volunteers and teammates rooting for athletes lifting hundreds of pounds in The Villanova Room or watch as teams dove for a volleyball on the courts of the Jake Nevin Field House. Walking through campus’ Quad, one would find themself in the middle of Olympic Town (nicknamed “O-Town”), Special Olympics’ center point where Villanova clubs and organizations host tables full of different games and activities for athletes.

Keely Likosky, a senior at Villanova, shared her role in the creation of O-Town, as well as her Special Olympics experiences throughout her time at the University.

This year I was part of the Entertainment committee, where we worked to plan and organize Olympics Town, ‘O-Town’, and the Victory Jamboree,” Likosky said. “This weekend, I felt grateful to be on a committee with a very tangible impact. I watched athletes and volunteers dance as they celebrated and laugh as they learned to twirl with the twirling team. I saw athletes pose for pictures under the banner we had made weeks before, smiling with hands raised. I read the scrapbooks they made at the Jamboree, complete with Polaroids taken with new friends. My last year on committee at Fall Fest was spent soaking in the feelings around me, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the athletes, my fellow committee members, and everyone on campus this weekend.”

Each year, Villanova’ Special Olympics Committee creates a theme that emphasizes the values of Special Olympics. This year’s theme, “When rooted together, we grow even better,” echoed everywhere, influenced the decorations and reminded everyone about the inclusive, community focused belief in which Special Olympics is rooted. 

The Special Olympics Committee website explained the reasoning for this year’s theme. 

“This year’s theme highlights the value of connection and togetherness in fostering growth,” The Website stressed. “Recognizing that growth takes place in collaborative spaces and is not only an individual process. This Fall Fest, we want to celebrate any and all growth that takes place, whether that be on campus, or long after the weekend is over. Growth is not a finite process, nor does it look the same for everybody.”

With every medal received, high five given, dance spontaneously busted out or heart connected with another, Villanova’s 34th Special Olympics was not only the largest student run event of its kind in the world, but the largest reminder to root for one another. All together, Special Olympics left the University even better and exemplified the sheer tenacity of the Villanova students who worked tirelessly to put the event on.