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CSU Hosts Special Olympics Unified Athlete Program

Collaboration continues to create a unique partnership with an exciting day of fun

Following a successful basketball clinic in February, CSU's College of Health once again hosted athletes from the Special Olympics unified athlete program from around the region, allowing those in attendance to learn the game of lacrosse and other fun outdoor sports on September 26.

With CSU's Krenzler Field serving as the host, students participated in lacrosse, soccer, and other drills, such as testing their speed and even their vertical leap. The event was organized and run by CSU student athletes from different sports, including tennis, lacrosse, women's basketball, and softball. The one-of-a-kind experience was designed with many benefits in mind, the first being able to give back to the community that CSU "lives" in, according to Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance Chair Jodi DeMarco.

"With that, we also get to engage a population who often struggle to find exercise and athletic opportunities that are designed for them [and] show off our awesome students and campus to these groups, and our students have an opportunity to learn in a hands-on, engaged and meaningful way," she said. "For example, the planning group for this event was all students [and] we met weekly, and I posed questions about their day - about the event set up, the activities they wanted to schedule, [tasking] them with thinking bigger about it [and as a result], they got to take leadership roles, work on communication and problem solving and work together as a team all while doing something they love."

While there isn't a program associated with this collaboration between CSU and the Special Olympics unified athletes currently, according to DeMarco, a large number of CSU students are planning to pursue careers in health care, exercise and fitness, and health promotion. That got the wheels in motion when it came to thinking about how their future careers could come into play by getting more involved within community events now.

"We helped our CSU students participate in engaged learning, exposing them to careers in health, the community they may serve, and to one another while taking our students out into the community to provide health screenings and education," she said. "But the February event (with the Special Olympics unified athlete program) was the first one we hosted on campus; our Dean and the University administration have been incredibly supportive of this partnership. We continue to support the Special Olympics and their athletes at Unified events they host around the Cleveland area."

CSU lacrosse coach Andy German was also on hand to help facilitate the activities and said the partnership between CSU and the Special Olympics is just that – special.

"The work that Jodi DeMarco has done over the years with Special Olympics and adaptive lacrosse, for us to be able to host today is amazing and to give these athletes a chance to come out and get some exercise and have some fun and laugh and smile is amazing," he said. "We are just really thankful for everyone involved and not just the lacrosse athletes that are here, but women's softball players, soccer players, and basketball, and it's just a great day for Cleveland State athletics and Cleveland State as a whole."

As German surveyed the scene, he took note of the excitement in the air and how the energy from the CSU students seemed to permeate each group as each student went through the different activities.

"You just hope [the CSU students] take away maybe one thing from their time [today], maybe it is their appreciation or if they just had a good day or it made them feel good helping somebody else get through ladders (a lacrosse drill) or kick a ball or learn how to throw a lacrosse ball," he said. "Whatever it was today, you just hope the Cleveland State student-athletes take away an appreciation for what they get to do on the day-to-day; they were able to laugh and have a smile and be outside, and it was just really a good day for everybody."

DeMarco said they are planning on having another basketball event this winter and are hopeful the relationship between CSU and the Special Olympics will continue to grow as time goes on.

"Today's program was the first lacrosse event that the Special Olympics has done, and we hope that this will help grow awareness of the sport," she said. "[More importantly], we hope this will allow us to continue to develop opportunities for kids to participate."

German added:

"If we can find more athletes that want to get involved from the Special Olympics perspective, we can grow, and it is something we can do in the fall and spring and use the resources we have here at CSU and the relationships we have just to give as many athletes as we can an opportunity," he said. "At the end of the day, that's what it's all about, an opportunity to come out and have some fun, smile, laugh, and leave here and not just have a good feeling about Special Olympics but have a good feeling about Cleveland State and I think that's the most important part."