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Carnegie Mellon anticipates the arrival of the Pennsylvania Special Olympics

Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Credit: Courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania

For the first time ever, the Western Pennsylvania Special Olympics Spring Sectional will come to Carnegie Mellon University this Saturday, April 30. The event comes at an opportune time for Carnegie Mellon students to de-stress after the last day of classes and cheer on young adults with intellectual disabilities from across the country as they compete in basketball, swimming, track and field, tennis, golf, and more.

In preparation for Saturday’s games, The Tartan spoke to representatives and athletes that will take part in the event about the role they played in bringing it to Carnegie Mellon and what they are most looking forward to.

The Western Pennsylvania Special Olympics has historically been held at Clarion University, just outside the Pittsburgh area. This year, however, Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) was on the lookout for a new venue for the Spring Games. This caught the attention of Carnegie Mellon Police Lieutenant Joseph Meyers.

Lieutenant Meyers saw this as the perfect opportunity for SOPA to partner with Carnegie Mellon to take this event to a new level. “It [gives] SOPA an opportunity to bring the event to a world class university in the heart of Pittsburgh, and an opportunity for the CMU community (particularly the students) to engage with the athletes on a personal level, and experience first-hand the dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of each special Olympian — not only to their sport, but to their daily struggle for acceptance and inclusion in mainstream society,” Lieutenant Meyers said. This goal of acceptance, Meyers notes, has not yet been fully achieved, but he hopes that support from the Carnegie Mellon community for the athletes in Saturday’s event will bring them one step closer.

Meyers took the reins on this project, and procured critical support from university entities. He reached out to Vice President of Campus Affairs Michael Murphy, who enthusiastically backed the project, telling him to “make it happen.” Also on board were Beth Yazemboski and Monica Galmarini from Conferences and Event Services and Director of Athletics Josh Centor. “The effort continues to grow, and we’re expecting a great event that will become a lasting part of the CMU and Special Olympics experiences,” Meyers said.

In order to raise money and awareness for the Special Olympics, Meyers, and hundreds of other LETR officers, participated in SOPA’s fundraising events including the annual Pittsburgh Polar Plunge and the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Meyers and his colleagues were even seen during Spring Carnival near Doherty Hall hosting Dunk-a-Cop. The event was organized in part by Carnegie Mellon Police Detective Leah Noch in order to raise money for the games. The University Police Union pledged to match the amount raised at the event, amassing a total of $2,300. The officers will present a check to the Special Olympics at the opening ceremony, which kicks off at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Detective Meyers, along with other LETR officers, will volunteer at Saturday’s games as “honor guards” during the opening ceremony and will be presenting awards throughout the games.

Program Director of SOPA and Western Competition Director for the Special Olympics Mike Ermer has been involved in the organization for seven years. He expressed his enthusiasm for bringing the games to Carnegie Mellon’s campus, noting that moving this event, despite its magnitude, has been a goal of SOPA’s for a while. Lieutenant Meyers reached out to Ermer a couple of years ago, which allowed this goal to come to fruition. Now that the event is only days away, Ermer and his associates at SOPA are eager to see this dream become reality. “It is a great opportunity to partner Special Olympics with a great university, but even a better opportunity to have our athletes and the CMU population get to know each other. The impact each will make on the other will be life-changing,” Ermer said.

Special Olympics athlete Jessica Clayton has been participating in the Olympics since she was nine years old. During Saturday’s games she will compete in walking, bowling, and bocce. She is most looking forward to being with her friends during the games and getting to showcase the hard work she has been doing during her training. In a message to the Carnegie Mellon community, she invites us to “come and see what we’re going to be doing. It’s fun when people come and support us.”

Also participating in the games is Mikey Brecker, a self-proclaimed “huge Penguins fan,” who will compete in basketball, soccer, and softball. Like Clayton, Brecker looks forward to hanging out with his friends during and after the games. He also likes saying cheers for his fellow athletes while they are competing. Brecker wants to wish all the athletes good luck at Saturday’s games and urges those coming out to donate. “I’d like us to raise a lot of money,” Brecker said.

The Tartan also spoke with Robert Mansfield, who will compete in soccer, softball, and basketball. Mansfield first started participating in the games due to encouragement from his friends and family members. He is most looking forward to the tournament and getting to interact with the athletes. “It’s going to be an awesome experience,” said Mansfield.

Clayton, Brecker, Mansfield, and their fellow athletes have dedicated a lot of time and effort towards preparing for Saturday’s games. Unfortunately, not many athletes get the support of friends and family members at the competitions. It is important for Carnegie Mellon constituents to give back to the athletes, police officers, and faculty members who have given the community the opportunity to experience all the hard work and dedication that went in to bringing these games to campus.

Special Olympics officials invites all attending to become a “Fan in the Stand” by cheering on the athletes, making signs, clapping, whistling, making up chants, or anything to let them know you’re there and are supporting the athletes. It’s a great way to get involved in the games while also watching the athletes in action. Special Olympics officials are also looking for volunteers to help throughout the day with basketball, track, aquatics, tennis, awards, food, and other services.

Donations can be made and managed online at specialolympicspa.org.

The Western Pennsylvania Special Olympics Spring Sectional encourages students to take a break from academics before finals and enjoy the events at Gesling Stadium this Saturday.