Living Unified



Claire Ferry

20-19… Game point. 

Chris couldn’t help himself, smack-talking the other side with a playful smile. 

“Butterfingers,” he called out to the server, “Don’t mess up!”

The ball came sailing over the net, directed at my fellow teammate, Ryan.  He gave Chris a perfect pass to deliver the crushing kill to end the game.  The crowd erupted with roars of cheers from the sidelines.

Chris and Ryan had become best of friends on the beach court, though they had only met hours before.  One was a member of Sigma Nu and the other a Special Olympics athlete, but you would never know the difference at first glance. 

Perhaps the slogan on the back of our shirts summed up the day perfectly: “Change doesn’t happen from the sidelines. Game on.”

Last Saturday, Villanova Special Olympics hosted its first Unified Sports event at the West Campus sand courts.  Athletes from Montgomery County teamed up with Villanova students to enjoy the blue skies and sunshine with some friendly competition.  

“We saw a fantastic response from the community,” Unified Sports Committee Assistant Steve Perrotti said. “The ability to get a large population of Villanova students from all different organizations involved was something we’re really excited about. We want to open up Special Olympics to everyone on campus.”

Students from the Special Olympics Committee, fraternities and club sports organizations came out to partake in the event.  Together with the Montgomery athletes, we formed a four-team tournament.

“It was very awesome and so fun and I loved it,” my Green Team member Kevin said. “Plus, I got a really good spike.”

When Kevin wasn’t tearing it up on the volleyball courts, he was busy beaming a smile or breaking out his best dance moves.  

This is what Saturday was truly about—using sports as an avenue to build camaraderie and lasting friendships.

Having played volleyball in high school, this Unified event struck a chord with me.

While the Green Team went 1-3 on the day, we certainly made the other squads work for their victories.  I’m positive Monica’s serve was stronger than most of mine, and Chris’ hustle from line to line was unmatched.  Kevin provided our team with an enthusiasm that proved invaluable during tight matches.

More importantly, though, I walked off the court with three new friends. We all wore the bright red shirts—we were all the same.  

I’m admittedly a volleyball junkie, but the most memorable part of the day was hardly the athletic competition.  As we lounged in the grass after the games eating hot dogs and burgers, I got to know some of my teammates beyond a Special Olympics context.

There was so much more to Monica than just her strong serve and infectious smile.  She told me the story of how her husband Frank, also in attendance, had proposed to her on Christmas Eve a few years ago.  

I had been giving her tips on passing just moments ago, and now she was offering me relationship advice.  We were equals.

“This was the goal,” Unified Sports Committee Chair Hannah Lee remarked, “to look out and see everyone eating and talking and mingling together.”

The success of this first Villanova Unified event is only a glimpse into the possibilities ahead.  

“This was a really big step in establishing a platform for Unified Sports because it’s the future of Special Olympics,” Special Olympics Fall Festival Director Jess Ritchie said. “It’s not just about Special Olympics athletes competing in their own realm—it’s about coming together and creating this environment of inclusiveness.”

The sea of red shirts on Saturday afternoon was a perfect illustration of this inclusiveness.  A passerby only saw one group of people instead of divisions based on perceived ability.

West Campus proudly shouted the coined slogan, “Play unified, live unified,” that afternoon. The ultimate goal, however, is to promote this message year-round at Villanova.

“A lot of people grow up playing different sports, and these athletes are no different,” Lee adds, “and the sooner people realize that, the better.”

In an effort to spread this ideology, the committee will host more Unified events next semester.  Plans are still in the works, but talk of multi-day tournaments and “intramural-style” leagues has been discussed.  Lee even hopes to plan a Unified basketball tournament with Jay Wright’s team.

How fitting would that be—National Champions playing right alongside Special Olympics athletes.

It’s important to remember these changes won’t happen from the sidelines, and they certainly won’t happen overnight. But in the world of inclusiveness in athletics and beyond, Villanova is ready to make a statement.

Game on.