University hosts Annual Special Olympics Weekend


Courtesy of Amanda Morgan/The Villanovan

Chris Deucher

The University’s annual Fall Fest was held this past weekend from Nov. 10 through the 12. During the course of the sports-filled weekend, Special Olympics athletes from all over the state came to compete in the largest annual student-run Special Olympics event in the world, proudly held on Villanova’s campus.

This year, with construction blocking many spaces traditionally used for events, Fall Fest used not only the University’s campus for events but also local schools in the neighboring areas. Fall Fest is just one of the many large Olympic-style events that Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA), sponsors. SOPA provides year-round trainings and competitions for over 20,000 people with disabilities. 

SOPA as a whole hosts over 260 local and sectional events per year. In addition to these local and sectional events, SOPA sponsors four major statewide events. Fall Fest happens to be one of these four major events. Fall Fest is so large that volunteers from neighboring schools also join in and participate. 

This is the twenty-ninth year that the University held “Fall Fest.” The weekend kicked off with an Opening Ceremony held at the Football Stadium. Despite scheduling conflicts with the University’s home opening basketball game against Columbia, as well as the cold weather, many students showed up to the Opening Ceremony to cheer on the athletes and show their support.

Local Program Hosts, commonly known as “LPHs,” were at the Opening Ceremony also to cheer on the athletes. LPHs are freshmen who work directly with the athletes of a certain area to ensure that Fall Fest runs smoothly. LPH Freshman Julianna Ridgway stated, “Even though it was freezing cold, the athletes, coaches and volunteers were all so excited to mark the beginning of an amazing weekend of competition with the opening ceremonies.” 

Two of the emcees of the Opening Ceremony were actually Special Olympics athletes themselves. University President Rev. Peter M. Donahue, O.S.A., Ph.D., spoke at the ceremony, as well as the President of SOPA. The duration of the Opening Ceremony was filmed by VTV, the University’s television station. 

Senior Mackenzie Ward added, “Opening ceremonies were just as amazing as they always are. I loved how much energy all of the athletes and students still had even though it was so cold out! It is one of my favorite parts of Fall Fest and I can’t believe that this year was my last one.”

“It was amazing to see so many happy athletes who not only wanted to compete, but also socialize with each other and also get to know us, the referees,” Sophomore Emily Gardnera bocce pro-Vol for Fall Fest, remarked. 

Gardner spent the weekend being a referee for bocce and was impressed with the sportsmanship of the athletes. “During the Opening Ceremony and throughout the games, all of the athletes cheered for each other, despite being on different teams. It was awesome knowing that they were all so excited for each other and did not prioritize the competitive aspect of the weekend” Sophomore Meghan Rice noted. 

Another student leadership role is the Volunteer Coordinator (VC). The primary responsibility for a VC is to organize groups of volunteers at a specific Special Olympics venue, provide logistical support and encourage an energetic and energy environment for the athletes.   

“My experience in this position was incredibly humbling,” Will Brenninkmeyer, a sophomore VC said.  “To see so many Villanovans show up early on a Saturday morning in the freezing cold and cheer with everything they had for our athletes competing was incredible.”

“Outside of my venue I was blessed with being able to experience opening ceremonies, O-town, the victory dance, Long Distance Running/Walking, Fall Fest Experience and closing ceremonies,” Brenninkmeyer said. “I got to taste a little bit of almost everything this weekend and each new experience brought with it incredible memories. O-Town, as always, was incredible and one of the many highlights of Fall Fest. Being able to sing and dance without any worries for hours on end with athletes and fellow Villanovans is an experience and feeling that I will cherish forever.”