Club supports Special Olympic athletes
Madison Jaros | Wednesday, February 4, 2015
The motto of Special Olympics Notre Dame reads, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” a phrase club vice president and senior Andrew Hosbein said describes the club’s mission well.
“You hear the Vince Lombardi quote, ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,’ and from that you take sports to be ultra-competitive, which they are – who doesn’t want to win?” Hosbein said. “Yet, at the same time, one must be comfortable that they tried their best, and that’s what we try encourage through the club at Notre Dame.”
Special Olympics Notre Dame, founded in 2010, connects students with members of the South Bend community with intellectual disabilities.
Club co-president and senior Molly Reidy said relationships between students and Special Olympic athletes develop through participation in sports. Pick-up basketball, swimming and ice-skating are some of the largest events the club plans throughout the year, she said.
“One of the biggest things I think is important to know about our club is that we’re not an event on campus, but we’re a club that plans events year around,” Reidy said.
The club also plans a Special Olympics soccer program, Unified Soccer, each spring, Reidy said.
Hosbein said Unified Soccer provides students and athletes with an opportunity to play on a team together.
“What I think is really unique about Unified is the participation on the part of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students,” Reidy said. “They are able to get involved rather than just standing on the sideline and giving pointers. And I think that’s really valuable not only for the students, but also the athletes. They feel like they’re a part of an actual team and aren’t just being instructed on how to get better. While that’s certainly a goal, the camaraderie that the students and athletes develop is special.”
Unified Soccer didn’t have any local teams like it to play against when it began, but club co-president and senior Laura Gardner said the popularity of the program has since grown to include away games in Michigan. The involvement between club members and athletes provides students with a sense of pride as they see athletes improve and develop, Gardner said.
“Volunteers learn to be adaptable to the kids, and in the end, after a whole season of soccer practices, it’s amazing to see children that you work with actually develop day by day in terms of skills and maturity,” Gardner said. “We had our first Unified Soccer practice today, and one of the kids from last year was directing a new kid this year and saying, ‘This is what I learned last year; this is how you should incorporate it.’ … So that was really cool.”
The connection between the city of South Bend and Special Olympics Notre Dame benefits those with disabilities and their families while also popping the “Notre Dame bubble,” Reidy said.
“I think the fact that we are not only bridging the gap between the Notre Dame community and the South Bend community, but also bridging the gap between those with and without disabilities – I think it goes hand-in-hand really well,” Reidy said. “We’re not only being exposed to these athletes and what they’re capable of, but we’re being exposed to their families and the ways the athletes and their families find joy. And they find opportunity through our club through the events that we hold, which I think is really rewarding.”
This spring, Special Olympics Notre Dame will also participate in ‘Spread the Word to End the Word,’ a national campaign to end the casual use of the word “retarded,” Reidy said.
“It’s important to take time away from school, which can become all-consuming with work, friends and social life, finding a job – and return the favor,” Hosbein said. “It’s grounding and has engendered a sense of humility, and to me, there’s nothing better than seeing how excited an athlete gets after hitting a three or scoring a goal.
“At the core, sports are about competition, but Special Olympics has shown me that making others happy by playing and teaching them skills can be just as satisfying as winning.”