Rider to host 2014 Special Olympics

By Rachel Stengel

Rider University will be one of the three New Jersey venues for the 2014 Special Olympics USA National Games in which 3,500 athletes will compete in 14 Olympic-type sports.

Rider was chosen as a venue because of its great indoor sports facilities and its support of past  Special Olympics of New Jersey’s (SONJ) Summer Games, according to Doreen Pustizzi, Senior Director of Communications for the Special Olymics of New Jersey.  Other venues and partners include Princeton University, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Mercer County Park, Prudential Center and various private and public schools. The event will take place June 13 to 21, 2011.

Rider has been a supporter of SONJ for more than a decade. Every June, Rider provides housing and meals to athletes participating in the SONJ through a regional partnership with TCNJ, according to Mike Reca, associate vice president for Facilities and Auxiliary Services and Karson Langenfelder, director of Study Tours and Conference Services.

The university was approached by a SONJ delegate to submit a bid to play host to the 2014 USA National Games in conjunction with other peer institutions. Rider also gave a tour of its facilities to the Special Olympics USA National Games Selection Committee. The Committee was impressed, especially by the West Village Residence Halls, the Student Recreation Center, the softball and baseball fields and the turf field.

Freshman Casey Clark anticipates the event to be a successful volunteer opportunity.

“I think it’s a great event for Rider to host because we don’t see a lot of opportunities for community service around campus,” Clark said. “This is definitely a step in the right direction to get Rider students more involved in the community.”

The state of New Jersey was chosen to host the USA National Games because of its location near major media markets, the potential of corporate sponsors and the SONJ’s history of dedicated volunteers.

“The University is excited to partner with an event of this scale with such a great impact on our community,” Christine Zelenak, executive assistant to the president, said in an email. “We are delighted to showcase our beautiful campus and recent facility enhancements to athletes and fans from all 50 states. Rider is confident that through our partnership we will help foster positive change in the Special Olympics Movement and provide a first-class atmosphere to ensure the National Games in 2014 are a great success.”

The  Special Olympics began in 1968 through the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In the early 1960s, Shriver developed a day camp for individuals with intellectual disabilities. She believed in their athletic abilities and developed the first International Special Olympics Games in Chicago. Since its inception, the Special Olympics has become a nonprofit organization specifically targeted to 200 million people with intellectual disabilities worldwide. The Special Olympics has become, “the world’s largest movement dedicated to promoting, respect, acceptance, inclusion and human dignity,” according to SONJ.

The Games have been held around the globe in the United States, Europe and Asia. There are nearly 3.5 million Special Olympics athletes and 226 programs worldwide. The mission of the Special Olympics is to provide year-round athletic training and competition to both adults and children with intellectual disabilities.             The Athlete Oath condenses the organization’s mission in a simple statement, “Let me win. But, if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The 2014 Special Olympics USA National Games Planning Committee is still in the process of planning for the event, specifically Rider’s involvement. The university is involved in negotiations to provide housing and meals to the 3,500 athletes and 1,000 coaches. Also, Rider will be a venue for some of the 14 athletic events, which include basketball, soccer, gymnastics and volleyball, among others. Rider will serve as a place for the community and fans of the event to gather. A team of departments and staff who will serve as Rider’s Planning Committee is currently being established to ensure the Games are a success.

The event is expected to be a huge economic boom for the greater Mercer/Middlesex County drawing over 80,000 people to the area. Money derived from tourism is expected to reach an estimated $50 million.

A budget of $15 million will be required for the 2014 Games. Federal and state funds, corporate and individual sponsors, campaign contributions and various fundraising support the Games. Monetary contributions and volunteers facilitate the Games at no cost to the athletes and their families. Sports officials, IT volunteers and medical staff are some of the 8,000 volunteer positions needed.

Students who wish to volunteer for the Special Olympics prior to the 2014 Games can do so in the local area. The SONJ’s Sports Complex is located in Lawrenceville. Volunteers are needed year-round. If you cannot personally volunteer for the event, the Special Olympics offers a few other methods of volunteerism. You can be a fan in the stands and cheer on the athletes, donate money to the Special Olympics or pledge to stop using the word “retard” as an insult.

Freshman Kelly Hilghman is an avid supporter of stopping the use of the word “retarded” in a negative fashion. She strives to open students minds to the hurtfulness of the action; she hopes to spread awareness and understanding of the intellectually disabled community.

“I feel like bringing such a great opportunity to Rider would be just as beneficial to the campus as it is to the intellectually disabled community,” she said.

For other ways to volunteer go to www.specialolympics.org or www.sonj.org.

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