This weekend, the Villanova community will rally together to celebrate the abilities of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s finest athletes. Thousands of volunteers, families, athletes and coaches will be welcomed to campus with open arms tomorrow for the kick-off of the 26th Annual Fall Festival.
Villanova Fall Festival is a packed weekend of Special Olympics competition. Athletes travel to campus from around the state of Pennsylvania to represent their county and compete in activities like powerlifting, long distance running, volleyball, bocce and soccer. Villanova students join forces with local volunteers to make the weekend happen. Volunteers are responsible for supervising competition venues, cheering on athletes and guiding visitors around campus. They also host fun events like the Victory Dance, a party in the Pavilion on Saturday night to celebrate the accomplishments of the athletes.
Villanova’s student body is proud to be characterized by a commitment to serve. The Management Team of the Special Olympics Committee has spent the past year working hard to lead approximately 85 committee members through the Fall Festival planning process. From February to November, these 85 students plan extensively, preparing to facilitate the execution of the weekend-long event.
The Special Olympics committee is led by the 2014 Festival Director Katie Hickey, ’15, with the Management Team by her side. Luke Allen, Bobby Reiff, John Szot, Erin Hannon and Lindsay Peterson represent MT and serve as the directors of human resources, administration, competition, support services and special events, respectively.
Peterson leads the team that has the responsibility of choosing a theme for the weekend. When Special Events goes about making their selection, it’s hardly on a whim.
“We brainstormed and compiled a list of potential themes,” Peterson said. “We then voted and narrowed it down to about five possibilities.” Peterson reports that special events stays focused on the athlete experience during the decision making process, but secondarily considers how they will creatively decorate campus. She leads the team that plans and executes signature events like the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and O-Town, the athlete carnival hosted by student group volunteers in the quad.
The Special Olympics Committee was very proud to announce the 2014 Superhero theme.
“It sends a powerful message,” Peterson said. The athletes have undoubtedly made a difference in the lives of many Villanovans. Peterson says that in many ways, they are “everyday superheroes,” and they are certainly the superheroes of Villanova.
When Jackie Plowshay, ’15, accepted her position as the Awareness Committee Chair, she knew it was time to get the word out about the heroes of Fall Festival using a different medium.
“Last year’s Awareness Chair John Szot suggested we try and [make a video]”, Plowshay says. “The easiest way to get the word out about something is via social media,” going onto explain that sharing a simple YouTube link on Twitter or Facebook can go a long way.
Plowshay and her Awareness team worked with Villanova TV to produce a short film entitled “What’s Your Why” with a clear objective in mind. The video features about 15 individuals, including University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., men’s basketball coach Jay Wright, athlete representatives and committee members. Listening to University students and faculty speak about why they are involved in Special Olympics and how it has changed their life is moving. The inspirational clip reveals to everyone, in the words of Human Resources Director Luke Allen, why “there is no better place in the world than Fall Festival at the University.”
In the film, Donohue talks about his experience with the organization. “We are all responsible for each other,” he said, adding that “we need to be aware of the needs of other people.” The University president went on to note that the athletes who come to campus for Fall Festival “give a lot more to the Villanova Community than we give to them.”
It is clear that Special Olympics makes an impact on volunteers’ lives in diverse ways, but Plowshay summed up Fall Festival’s impact on the student body quite well.
“Special Olympics makes people who aren’t always included feel special and know that they are valued,” she said.
The international motto of Special Olympics is “Let me win, but if I do not win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Villanova’s Fall Festival does not seek to highlight the disabilities of athletes, but rather, their amazing abilities. You can find the “What’s Your Why” Video on VTV’s YouTube channel and hear the remarkable reasons why athletes, university leaders and students participate year after year.
It’s never too late to become a part of Fall Festival. Walk-in volunteers will be accepted the morning of Saturday, Nov. 8th. Look for a tent on the corner of Ithan and Lancaster to sign up and become a part of this life-changing weekend.