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Special Olympics and Cleveland State University College of Health Team Up for Second Basketball Clinic

2024 Special OlympicsThe Cleveland State University College of Health hosted its second integrated Special Olympics basketball clinic in March, five months after the college’s Special Olympics Unified Program, which taught individuals with disabilities and special needs about the basics of lacrosse, soccer and more.

“At the root of it, our department is training students to be in health and wellness-related fields,” said Jodi DeMarco, chair of CSU’s Department of Health Science & Human Performance. “What better way to really give them an engaged learning experience while also providing a great community service opportunity than to bring the students in and let them work with the kids right here on campus.” 

The Special Olympics is an international organization that provides athletic opportunities to individuals with disabilities and special needs. Its Unified Sports Program promotes inclusion through sports and has garnered support from the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), among others.

Last year, the Special Olympics contacted Cleveland State to ask for support refereeing Unified Basketball, soccer and flag football games. CSU first brought the Special Olympics to its campus in Feb. 2023, when about 200-250 individuals with disabilities from different schools in the community learned how to play basketball. The Cleveland Cavaliers “Cavs Academy,” the youth basketball program of the NBA franchise, joined the integrated basketball clinic. 

Over 100 volunteers attended the Feb. 2023 basketball clinic. DeMarco said it gained enough support to become a recurring event.

Brynna Mardis, a student-athlete on the CSU’s women’s golf team, said volunteering for the Special Olympics event is something she looks forward to every semester. 

2024 Special Olympics“Being able to interact with and put a smile on the kids’ faces brings me endless joy,” she said. “I, along with my fellow student athletes and SAAC members, enjoy teaching kids how to play new games and learning how to adapt to their needs so they can have a day full of fun. 

“It's important that we give kids in the community an opportunity to try new things, while we also learn from the experience and become better leaders,” she added.

Stephanie Brooks, the inaugural dean of the College of Health, said the Special Olympics lines up with several of the department’s goals and values. 

“We at the College of Health are not only about educating our students, but educating a workforce,” Brooks said. “For me, this is also a way of introducing our students to another group of individuals, clients or patients with whom they could possibly develop an expertise, work in and improve health outcomes as direct practitioners, researchers and scholars.”

The College of Health prides itself on inspiring innovation and inclusivity, promoting health equity and wellness and educating with excellence. It includes the Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance, which features pathways in health science and exercise science both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, among many more. The Special Olympics helps provide hands-on experience for Cleveland State students and speaks to the talents their students possess, DeMarco said.

“They’re amazing,” she said. “They’re great at communicating. They are just incredibly supportive of all these kids. 

“I heard more cheering for every event: every activity, every drill, everything. Every little win was celebrated.”

To learn more about CSU’s College of Health, click here.