Special Olympics Club hosts Unified Basketball


Photo by Alejandra Gerlach

Trinity’s Special Olympics College Club, in conjunction with Special Olympics San Antonio, kicked off the Unified Basketball season on Feb. 14. The club hosts three Unified Basketball teams from Special Olympics on Thursdays in Webster Gym from 6–8 p.m. The Unified teams are organized by the Special Olympics organization, and the Trinity Special Olympics College Club works with them to provide a place to play, gear, and volunteer partners.

To say a sport is unified simply means that teams comprise players with developmental disabilities and volunteer partners. This sets Unified Basketball apart from club and intramural basketball. According to the club’s outreach coordinator, first-year Piper Swearengin, there are rules to ensure fairness.

“The ratio is always more players than volunteers. So for example, for flag football, there is five people, so it would be three players, two [volunteers]. And there are special rules about making sure that the volunteers are passing to the players and not just to the volunteers,” Swearengin said.

Special Olympics works with players in their 20s and 30s and provides a space for athletic competition. Volunteer partners are not responsible for teaching the game as the players are already familiar with the rules and mechanics; in fact, they don’t have to have any athletic experience to volunteer. Rather, volunteers are meant to encourage athletes and build relationships, according to sophomore club president Katie Wright.

“Just show up [if you want to volunteer]. You don’t have to have any paperwork, you don’t have to do anything. If you want to come, we want you there. You don’t have to know how to play. Really it’s more about interacting and encouraging the athletes. That’s really why we’re there and just forming those relationships,” Wright said.

According to Swearengin, Special Olympics Club is new to campus, having been officially created last fall primarily through the efforts of Wright and Kristen Harrison, the associate athletic director for Recreation and Sports Camp and Trinity’s Special Olympics club sponsor.

“It got [officially started] in November, which was cool because there’s no [other] club on campus that works with anybody with developmental disabilities,” Swearengin said.

Although the club was only created recently, members are already hosting their second season of unified sports. During the fall semester, the club hosted Unified Flag Football. According to Wright, Harrison was already in the process of setting up Unified Flag Football when she first started putting the club together.

“I first reached out to Special Olympics Texas here in San Antonio. Their office is actually, like, three miles away, which is kind of ironic, and they really, really wanted to be [at] Trinity,” Wright said. “I found out that last year they had talked with Kristen Harrison who’s the [associate] athletic director, and they had done a sand volleyball tournament, and they were going to do Unified Flag Football here, so it was perfect timing.”

In addition to having hosted two seasons of Unified sports — flag football in the fall and basketball in the spring — the club also volunteers at Special Olympic events, according to Swearengin.

“We work with Special Olympics San Antonio in Unified but also at different volunteer events. So last week they had a bowling competition, so we went and helped out with that. There’s a soccer competition and another basketball competition, just different sports that they have, and Special Olympics is always looking for volunteers just to go and either help or just cheer on,” Swearengin said.

Sophomore Becca Wicker, a member of the club who recently volunteered at the Special Olympics bowling event, reflected on the positive experience volunteering has been.

“Volunteering with Special Olympics is super fun. The club is a great opportunity to meet people both in and out of the Trinity community. Interacting and learning with the athletes is a great way to spend your time, and I’d encourage anyone to come out,” Wicker said.

The club is also working on a fundraiser to raise money for the Special Olympics organization. According to Wright, an on campus Special Olympics dance is in the works, which would not only raise money through ticket sales but also be a social event for the Special Olympics athletes.

“We’re going to host a Special Olympics dance here at Trinity. April 25 is the day we are hoping for right now. We want to do that in conjunction with Special Olympics. We want to open it to the Special Olympics community in San Antonio, so it’s free for them and their families, and then we’ll just charge Trinity students and faculty a small fee just to try and raise it for Special Olympics,” Wright said.

The Special Olympics club is still looking to grow. In addition to volunteers, the club is looking for two runners to complete a running team for the Special Olympics Summer Games in April.

“Two of our Special Olympics Athletes have Division I times for track, and they need two more people to participate with them in the four by 100. If anybody who is fast and can run is interested, we would love to have them,” Wright said.

Anybody with an interest in volunteering or simply looking for more information can reach out to Harrison or Wright through email, Instagram or by attending the club’s meetings, which are every other Tuesday in the Tehuacana Room of Coates Student Center at 6:30 p.m. The next meeting is on March 3.