Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Sport trainings and athletic competitions are held all year long, which not only provides opportunities for physical activity, but also development opportunities, joyful experiences, and lifelong friendship. Unified Sports unites people with and without intellectual or physical disabilities on the same team. It is inspired by and promotes understanding, acceptance, inclusion, and community.
In 2013, a group of eager Duke students formed the Special Olympics (SO) Club. At this time, the SO Club on campus was very robust with over 100 members registered. As participation continued to grow, partnerships between Duke Recreation and Physical Education, Durham County Special Olympics, and the SO Club were formed.
With the help of club officers, the Duke University Unified Sports program began with the inaugural Spring 2017 Basketball season. The following season the program grew and added a Unified Flag Football league for the fall semester.
Duke’s Special Olympics Unified programming has continued to draw in student volunteers and athletes in the Durham community for almost a decade. One of the highlights of the program has been the incorporation of the annual Unified Basketball Rivalry game, where Unified teams at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill play against each other.
This year on February 3rd, Duke Rec & P.E. and the SO College Club planned and organized the Unified Rivalry game at Brodie. The game was fun and spirited and several special guests supported the event, including Duke AFROTC, Pitchforks, Dancing Devils, and the Duke Blue Devil mascot! The event united athletes, partners, and fans from both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. ESPN College GameDay even got some footage and was shared during the show the next morning.
Duke SO College Club President, Sarah Kelso, said “It was really cool to play on a Duke team against UNC and feel what’s it’s like to be in a rivalry game with such a long history!”
As members of the team, Duke students get to meet people outside the Duke community and form friendships that can last beyond their four years at Duke. During extra practices for rivalry games, students have the opportunity to play at a local gym in Durham, a unique part of forming a team with the community outside of Duke. Creating these long-standing relationships is a great part of the engagement within the club, and truly adds to the emphasis on inclusion between both Duke students (partners) and Special Olympic athletes.
Creating an equal playing field by making sure everyone is involved benefits the entirety of this team setting that is formed. Throughout the warmups before games, team huddles during in-game timeouts, and post-game debriefs, there is constant communication between team members, and everyone receives input on how to be a better-positioned player as a team member. The executive staff and other students involved have always enjoyed the weekly events with the athletes and should continue to expect similar results for years to come as the SO club expands further in the Duke community.
If you are interested in being a member of the SO College Club and participating in Unified Sports, you can email the Intramural Sports Office.
Image Credit: Duke Recreation & Physical Education, Fall 2022