A Level Playing Field

From: Public Affairs

Sixty local Special Olympic athletes spent Saturday, Oct. 8, learning and interacting with dozens of JMU students and athletes during the fifth annual Day with the Dukes.


Video by David Jordan ('13), JMU Public Affairs

 
Video by Chris Meyers, JMU Marketing

 Special Olympian enjoys playing football during Day With The Dukes at Bridgeforth Stadium.
A Special Olympian enjoys playing football at Bridgeforth Stadium during the 5th annual Day With The Dukes.

 Special olympians pose with JMU basketball players for a group shot during Day With The Dukes.
Special Olympians pose with JMU basketball players during Day With The Dukes.


"The Dukes, and this event, truly are a shining example of the good things that can happen when the community gets together for a great cause," said Daniel Leake, Special Olympics Virginia, Shenandoah Region director.

Students in the psychology peer advising program at JMU paired the Special Olympic athletes with a JMU buddy to offer one-on-one interaction throughout the day.

"Having this day to really spend time and get to know somebody on a different level is really special," said Catherine Clarke, special events coordinator for the psychology peer advising program.

The day began in the new Bridgeforth Stadium, where the Special Olympians met the JMU football team. They ran drills, practiced passing, and kicked field goals. Being in the stadium and interacting with the players is one of the highlights of the Special Olympians' day. "[They] get to do things that nobody else gets to do. They're out on the football field with the guys; nobody gets to do that," said Leake.

From there, everyone moved to Godwin Hall to meet with the men's and women's basketball and soccer teams. In the gym, students and Special Olympic athletes were busy shooting hoops, dribbling through obstacles and learning how to play soccer.

After an active morning full of sports, everybody gathered for a tailgate lunch before heading back into the stadium to watch the Dukes take on the Maine Black Bears.

The Day with the Dukes program was founded by former JMU psychology peer advisor and tennis player Jesse Tarr in 2007. "I was looking for ways to give back and thought, 'Hey, JMU is such a cool place, we can do something special.'" And in its fifth year, Day with the Dukes is not just a fun-filled day for the Special Olympians; it also provides a valuable learning experience for the JMU students involved.

"Sometimes practices and games get really hard and we forget how much fun it is to be able to play basketball. This day reminds us that what we do here is a whole lot of fun," said Andrey Semenov, forward for the JMU men's basketball team.

The success of the day can be seen in the smiles of every person involved. "It's a win-win situation for everyone. The interaction between our athletes, and the JMU athletes, and the peer advisors is just a wonderful relationship," said Leake.

Published Oct. 12, 2011