Wartburg College hosted its 16th annual Unified Sports Day on Saturday, February 8 at the W Wartburg-Waverly Sports and Wellness Center. The event was organized by a committee headed by Monica Severson, Associate Director of Athletics/SWA that included members of the Wartburg College Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and students from the Wartburg student body along with staff members Paige Klostermann, assistant women’s golf coach, and Danielle Fiala, head women’s lacrosse coach. The Unified Sports Day committee works with Special Olympics Iowa staff and the Waverly Kiwanis Club to bring the event to campus each year. The Waverly Kiwanis Club donated $1,000 to Special Olympics Iowa to help fund the event and Thrivent donated $500. This year’s event had 150 students volunteer to be team members and 95 special athletes participate.
The day started off in Levick Arena where the athletes from northeast Iowa were put into 18 teams. Each team has a “team leader” and about 8-10 student volunteers that are with the special athletes throughout the day's activities. Our first activity is getting everyone on the gym floor to dance to favorites, like "YMCA." After our opening ceremonies the teams moved to the field house to participate in a variety of activities. The activities include parachute, hula hoops, volleyball with beach balls, bowling, bean bag toss, soccer, tee ball, bocce, and ladder golf. Each team takes a team picture and the special athletes make a picture frame for their team picture. After lunch, which is served by local Kiwanis members, we have a basketball game that has special athletes versus student volunteers. This is always a highlight for our athletes and volunteers. The closing ceremonies have each team leader talk about their team’s athletes and then give them their picture frame with the team picture and participation ribbon.
Here are some quotes from our volunteers:
Taylor Shaw, ’14 women’s soccer player, SAAC member and Unified Sports Day committee, “My favorite part of the event is seeing the smiles on the athletes' faces every time they make a basket, bowl a strike, or hit the baseball. It’s great to see our students working with these athletes and helping to brighten their day, week and even month.”
Abby Shannon, ’14 Unified Sports Day committee, “It is so heartwarming when a participant from past years recognizes your face and embraces you in a big hug! You can literally feel the happiness that the participants radiate which continues with them throughout the entire day! This has been a day of the school year that I always look forward to. It makes me sad to think I won’t be able to help next year after I graduate in May.”
Katie Horrigan, ’14 Unified Sports Day committee, “Unified Sports Day is an incredible experience that breaks down stereotypes to allow for a day of fun and competition. The positive energy in the Wartburg field house on USD is palpable. The athletes I have interacted with have truly changed my heart and I am so happy to have participated all four years. I will always remember it as some of the best days of my entire college experience.”
Cassi Ricci, ’14 women’s soccer student-athlete and team leader, “Working with these individuals has and always will be a passion of mine, but seeing what the student volunteers take away from experience is beyond rewarding. You can learn, grow, cherish, and embrace these moment with people that were at one point complete strangers to you; and by the end of the day have created memories and friendships that will never fade.”