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 Unified Flag Football leagues. During the pandemic, the SO Club continued to stay engaged, while also staying safe and following COVID-19 guidelines. Kahoot games, dance parties, and weekly workout sessions were all held virtually. Each week the group decided on a new sport to do fitness exercises for, which included football, boxing, basketball, and tennis. Most recently, Duke University received national recognition from Special Olympics for its achievements with inclusion.
Duke’s Special Olympics Unified programming has continued to draw in student volunteers and athletesin the Durham community for almost a decade. One of the highlights of the program has been the incorporation of the Unified Basketball Rivalry Series, where teams at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill play annually. The club’s current President, Sarah Kelso, said: “It wasn’t easy staying in touch during the early stages of the pandemic, but I am grateful we were able to make it work and eventually get back to playing games together. We are really excited to continue offering in person sports for this school year and we are even looking at adding a few more programming options! One of the athletes, Grant, expressed interest in e-sports tournaments for basketball and football. We are also hoping to attend a few regional tournaments. I am looking forward to leading the group this year and seeing it grow!” Duke Special Olympics will begin the fall semester on September 13th with our Unified Fall Kickoff event, with food, games, and fun times!