On January 17th, SO College held an information session to discuss the goals and opportunities they hoped to offer Western Michigan University.
The student-run organization hopes to create an Unified Sports team at WMU and provide a place for students or local people with intellectual disabilities to get involved in sports.
As written in a report presented at the conference, SO Academy “hopes to connect college students and people with intellectual disabilities through sports, build friendships and help lead Special Olympics’ social justice movement.”
Gabriel Vanderwoude, president of the SO Academy, said more about the group’s intentions.
“The main mission of the group is to build relationships between people with intellectual disabilities and students on campus,” Vanderwoude said.
Vanderwoude talked about the importance of inclusion and awareness.
“It’s really powerful, and it’s been in my life and in other people’s lives,” Vanderwoude said. “Inclusion is important and necessary because while they are human beings, there are certain things that they have difficulty doing.”
To help build relationships, Unified Sports works on a buddy system. A student without an intellectual disability (called a partner) will be paired with a student with an intellectual disability (called an athlete). From there, they will train and play the sport together.
Fusion Sports also follows several key rules unique to this style of play, all of which will be followed by Vanderwoude and his organization.
The rules of Unified Sports are as follows: All players are allowed to play, each player has an important role, each player can show their skills, the game is safe, no one is injured, players and coaches are good to each other, all players are in Train in a team.
As SO College grows, they hope to collaborate with local sports teams and other members of the community to create a richer experience.
During the meeting, possible event ideas were brought up, such as a halftime event with the WMU basketball team, or a showdown with the local fire department. Outreach events like these will help bring the community together and provide opportunities for additional education and awareness.
Ally Prokup and her family were in attendance, and they shared the personal impact of Unification on her life. When asked how she felt while participating, Ally said it made her feel “excited and energized”.
Shelle Prokup elaborates on Unified Sports’ impact on people with intellectual disabilities.
“It gave them confidence, it gave them something to look forward to,” Prokup said. “It gave them exercise and it gave them a lot of joy.”
Vanderwoude also provided an anecdote from his time on the Unified Sports basketball team in high school.
“We had a girl on the team named Faith, and she was the quietest person on the team, they never spoke,” Vanderwoude said. “After we had a scrimmage in front of the whole school, everyone loved Faith and would greet her in the hallway. It was fantastic and I hope to see joy from the athletes and everyone involved at WMU.”
SO College is a developing RSO looking for athletes, partners or any individual who wishes to get involved. Contact information can be found on their Experience WMU page.