1,100 athletes and 6,000 volunteers partake in SpO Fall Festival



Emanuel Perris

Students living in the Quad on Saturday, Nov. 5 awoke to music, cheering and crowds outside their windows as the 28th annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival got into full swing. 

The University’s student body defended the title of the largest student-run Special Olympics in the world this weekend with students coming out en masse to volunteer.

SOPA employee Wenona Sutton was impressed by the level of student involvement on campus over the course of the weekend.

“They’re projecting about 6,000 volunteers,” Sutton said. “That’s amazing!”

Dozens of student-run organizations set up stands on the Quad, forming the nerve center of the Special Olympics known as “O-Town.”

Students offered activities ranging from face-painting to karaoke, while others distributed sweets.  In addition to student-run organizations, many students volunteered individually and in small groups.

“We just danced in O-town for several hours a day,” one student said. “About four or five hours yesterday and the same thing today.  The athletes were really nice and really fun to hang out with.  Everyone always talks about how big SpO is here so we just wanted to experience it for ourselves.”

Sean O’Conner, a sophomore, volunteered with the medical committee.

“I was a medical volunteer for about three hours,” O’Conner said. “It was nothing crazy but I still wanted to help out.”

 Among the most involved were Freshmen Local Program Hosts, or LPHs, who hosted athletes from specific counties over the course of the entire weekend.  One such LPH volunteered for almost 40 hours over the course of the weekend.

“We had check in at 2:30 on Friday and it’s been non-stop since then,” one LPH said.    

According to Festival Director Jessica Ritchie, 1,100 athletes came from 38 delegations to compete. Ritchie has been involved with Special Olympics since her freshman year when she served as an LPH. As a sophomore she was 

“All of those participating united in a celebration of life and joy and competition,” Ritchie said. “I feel so blessed and grateful for the opportunity to serve as festival director.”