The Unified Sports Club at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, has been bringing college students and Special Olympics athletes together to compete together on various sports teams since 2012. And this year, they’re being recognized by ESPN as one of five Unified Champion Schools for how well they’ve met the 10 national standards of inclusion.
“It’s really a great honor,” said Kevin George, the director of campus recreation at Rowan University. “Being the only university recognized this year and ESPN wanting to come to our campus is a huge deal.”
On Saturday, November 3, Rowan will host a ceremony to unfurl the banner recognizing the accomplishments of the Unified Sports Club on campus, with ESPN present to document the celebration.
“Officially, the ceremony is going to start at 9:00 a.m.,” said George. “We’ll have the cheerleaders and the dance team there to make it have a game day feeling. I’m working with the Unified Club to order shirts for the first 300 attendees and give out thunder sticks to really make it sound festive.”
After the ceremony, the Unified Sports Club will also be hosting a special 5K called the Unified Trail Run, according to George. “It’ll be a 5K, with the money benefiting Special Olympics New Jersey and the Unified Sports program,” he said. “We also set up a one-mile fun run for those who don’t want to compete in the 5K.”
The November 3 celebration will be a huge affair. George is even hoping for some involvement — a shout-out or in-person visit — from members of the nearby Philadelphia Eagles. “Corey Clement, an Eagles running back, spoke at our commencement and is actually from Glassboro High School, right across from the university,” he said. “Doug Pederson, the Eagles head coach, has a son in the Unified Sports program.”
The only college to be honored by ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools National Recognition Program — the other four nominees are high schools — Rowan University has been an exemplary model for inclusivity in campus recreation.
“We have a fall season of soccer and then basketball in the spring,” said George. “It’s been great, the number of college students who play hard with the Special Olympians and don’t treat them differently. They’re playing to win.”
Whether Special Olympic athletes are meeting Eagles players — like quarterback Carson Wentz — or just getting to experience competitive sports with college students, the impact of the Unified Sports Club has certainly been special.
“This is really a great opportunity for those Special Olympic athletes to see our campus and participate with college students,” said George. “Their parents are very supportive and have a lot of great things to say about how the program has made a difference in their lives. We’ve been doing a lot of great things.”