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CCU Atheneum: Two Special Olympic athletes showing off their medals at the State Fall Games.
Two Special Olympic athletes showing off their medals at the State Fall Games.

New partnership with South Carolina Special Olympics opens doors for opportunities

by Melanie Smith
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Laughter, competition and inclusivity set the scene on Coastal Carolina University’s campus the weekend of Oct. 26-28. More than 100 volunteers and 1,500 delegation members statewide joined together in Myrtle Beach and Conway to host the Special Olympics South Carolina State Fall Games. The City of Myrtle Beach and CCU have joined a partnership with Special Olympics South Carolina to host the games every year.

Special Olympics South Carolina provides year-round athletic training competition for more than 29,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The State Fall Games is a multi-sport competition for athletes from around the state to play seven different sports, including under the age of 21 bocce, over the age of 21 bowling, disc golf, flag football, golf, soccer and volleyball. All sports have traditional and unified divisions. Unified divisions include athletes with intellectual disabilities alongside their peers without intellectual disabilities, who train and compete together. The games were quickly outgrowing the original space in Greenville, S.C., leading to a search for larger accommodations, preferably on the coast. According to Special Olympics South Carolina, Myrtle Beach and Conway’s hotel space and CCU's sports facilities made the Grand Strand a perfect fit.

The games kicked off with an opening ceremony on Friday, Oct. 26, at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, including a Parade of Athletes, lighting of the cauldron and dinner. On Saturday, Oct. 27, participants competed in bocce, flag football, soccer, volleyball and disc golf at CCU. A golf match was held at the General James Hackler Course, and bowling took place at Myrtle Beach Bowl and Surfside Bowling and Billiards.

Students, faculty and staff were invited to volunteer over the weekend, taking part in a variety of duties ranging from giving out awards, keeping score and time during games, facilitating sports events through the day, serving lunch, and assisting with the “Olympic Town,” where the athletes were housed. The women’s volleyball team, men’s and women’s track and field teams, and lacrosse players all took part in the fun.

Leigh Lowery, director of communications for Special Olympics South Carolina, praised CCU’s efforts.“All of the support staff who helped out throughout the day were fantastic,” Lowery said. “All of our student volunteers were great and enthusiastic about being there. We had lots of positive feedback!”

The new partnership is set to continue. Cheryl Morgan, director of the LIFE program at CCU, said the Special Olympics Unified Games have been on the program’s wish list to bring to campus.“Continuing the partnership will enhance the LIFE program by providing additional opportunities for LIFE students to participate in competitive athletics,” Morgan said. “It will also serve as a vehicle for disability awareness within the CCU community… and may attract more applicants to the program.”

The LIFE program is a four-year, tuition-based, post-secondary education and transition program for young adults who have mild to moderate intellectual and/or developmental disabilities as defined by AAIDD. LIFE program staff and mentors facilitate each student’s full integration within the campus community, both academically and socially, by utilizing natural campus and peer supports. Morgan believes the arrival of the South Carolina Special Olympics partnership will have an influence on community building within CCU, leaving a lasting impact that goes beyond the games.

Gregory Riola, a LIFE student, represented CCU playing golf. This past summer, LIFE student Max Wolff went to the National Games for swimming. Allowing individuals with disabilities to showcase their athletic abilities, knowledge and skills contributes to the fabric of the community, Morgan believes.

“Individuals with disabilities are members of our neighborhoods and communities,” she said. “Providing opportunities for including and supporting individuals with disabilities here at CCU is important to the growth and development of every member of our community.

Next year’s events have not been determined, but developments will be communicated throughout the following year based on the success of this year’s games.

For more information on LIFE program, visit coastal.edu/biddlecenter/lifeprogram. For more information on South Carolina Special Olympics, visit so-sc.org.

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