By Erin Brown, Sports Editor
Members of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) spend Sunday nights in a pretty spectacular way. Student athletes from USM come together with athletes from Special Olympics Maine Cumberland County to host a Unified Sports event showcasing a different sport every Sunday night. SAAC officer Lauren Lessard and SAAC advisor Samantha Allen pitched the idea at a Special Olympics Maine coaches meeting earlier this fall and the partnership was born.
The program alternates sports throughout an eight-week drop-in session to allow athletes to get an idea of the drills and skills that different sports entail. It also allows different members from different teams at USM to offer pointers and insights for their own sports.
This past week’s lesson was on volleyball. USM’s women’s volleyball team came out in full force to facilitate the event and teach athletes the different skills and techniques involved in of volleyball.
The night started out with dynamic stretching then some warm ups and skill exercise where the students taught the basics of volleyballs to athletes. The second half of the evening was spent playing games and a “king of the court” type tournament.
Words of encouragement, high-fives and laughs were all you could hear throughout Hill gymnasium. The energy was so warm and inviting that it was no surprise everyone in attendance had a smile beaming from their face during the entire night.
Elizabeth Mackie, the Special Olympics of Maine Cumberland County Area Manager, comes to the event every week as well. Mackie integrates herself into the drills and games enjoying the fun, but also working as an interpreter for some of the athletes.
“Cumberland County has quite a few Unified Programs that are more recreational in nature. This program has allowed our athletes more skills development in relation to the sports and has allowed them more one on one support during the skills training with the abundance of USM partners,” Mackie said about the program.
Mackie also spoke about how the unified program has already done so well that they have plans to continue the partnership in the spring, but this time working on the social aspects of sports such as being a teammate.
Several SAAC cabinet members are part of the volleyball team including President Mo Raymond, Vice President Robbi Termentozzi and Public Relations Coordinator Nicole Schmitz.
All three were extremely active throughout the evening with engaging athletes, setting up drills and facilitating the teams. All three and the rest of the SAAC cabinet, have been focused on creating a partnership with the Special Olympics for a while now.
President Raymond, a junior, said, “We’ve been talking about working with the Special Olympics since I was a freshman and we’ve been trying to work our way in to find a good schedule for all athletes to participate. This was the first year we were able to do Sunday nights so we had to take the opportunity and so far it’s been really good.”
The members spoke about the importance of why they chose to style the program the way they did. Raymond talked about the feeling of unity that the athletes who participate get out of the program saying, “It’s definitely important for everyone to feel like they’re a part of a team and that’s probably the best part of being on a team.”
Vice President Termentozzi talked about how much SAAC enjoys getting themselves involved to benefit the surrounding community and knew Special Olympics was another great program for them to get into.
Termentozzi also said, “It makes a huge difference in their lives to see and get skills from players, because they can take away these skills when they’re playing volleyball down the road and they can go on to teach teammates of theirs how to hit or to set the ball.”
Mackie talked about the importance of these student athletes who are volunteering their time on Sunday nights and how vital they are to Special Olympics Maine saying, “We’re always looking for new volunteers and it’s a great way for USM students to give back. It’s also a great way for students in education, occupational and physical therapy and psychology students to get hands on experience with some of the population they may work with in the future, as well as learning about and possibly making contacts with local agencies for future employment.”