A Shot in the Arm for Special Athletes Organization

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 13, 2012

Arcadia welcomed the Montgomery County Rotary Special Athletes to participate in the annual Sportsfest on March 31. The event kicked off with opening remarks from President Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III, Intramurals Director Jack Jephson and SAAC representatives. Ready for a packed day of events, Arcadia Special Athletes Association (ASAA) representatives didn’t suspect the upcoming surprise—a check for two thousand dollars made out to MCRSA to help with its ongoing social and athletic projects.

In past Sportsfests, athletes were welcomed to campus for soccer, volleyball, swimming and relay races. This year, they also had the opportunity to watch a martial arts presentation and take in the jungle theme.

“There was a lot of time invested into this event,” says Brittany Dutch ’12, co-president of ASAA. “We really wanted to spruce it up, so we brainstormed a theme—Welcome to the Jungle—and decorated the Kuch Gym accordingly.”

“It was a lot of work, but twice as rewarding,” says Dutch’s partner in crime, co-president of ASAA Samantha Luciano ’12.

ASAA has assisted with MCRSA’s social events since Dutch and Luciano’s involvement as Arcadia first years. Under their leadership, ASAA has held more events for special athletes than ever before, attracting record numbers of participants. From holiday dances to volleyball tournaments, the student-led group continues to provide special athletes in the Philadelphia area with opportunities to socialize and enjoy friendly competition—crucial elements in their growth as individuals.

“We get really involved with our athletes,” says Dutch. “We know them by name and get excited for their accomplishments. At the Valentine’s dance, one of our athletes was able to attend without their parent present… something his family wouldn’t have imagined possible a year before.”

“Over the years we have been blessed with many wonderful dedicated volunteer student coaches from Beaver and Arcadia,” says Rotary Special Athletes Coordinator Dennis Russel. ”Sam Luciano and Brittany Dutch early on (starting in their freshman year) clearly stood out with their spirit, enthusiasm and dedication. Our athletes bonded with them almost immediately, as did our regular coaches and athlete family members.

Not only have Dutch and Luciano followed through with their promise of transitioning leadership, they have also committed to continue working with the Rotary Special Athletes group and are now certified Special Olympic coaches.

In recognition of the duo’s dedication, Intramurals Director Jack Jephson wanted to take Sportsfest to a new level.

“My job as the Intramurals Director is to make events bigger and better. And I thought, what better way to improve Sportsfest than to give back to ASAA?” said Jephson at the event.

Coordinating efforts between SAAC and Arcadia student-athletes to improve Sportsfest, Jephson proposed a fundraiser to SAAC Events Chair Chrissy Taylor ’12.

“We loved Jack’s idea of fundraising for the event, so we thought and decided to donate the proceeds from our Blacklight Dance towards the athletes,” says Taylor.

Sportsfest and the donation were widely celebrated by MCRSA. Morris said the event was a “shot in the arm” for their upcoming goals. After receiving the check he said, “Volunteering for a non-profit can be discouraging in an unforgiving economy, so events like Sportsfest and people like those at Arcadia motivate us to keep doing what we do.”

“An incredibly generous donation such as that by SAAC will allow us to plan a few very special activities. A trip to the production of Grease and a holiday lunch-show is being discussed and a mini-golf outing is planned,” said Russel.

“We are overwhelmed that the students held this fundraising event to benefit our group. We are so thankful that the Arcadia students not only give up their time and talents to regularly help with our group but they put together this fundraiser which netted the largest single donation ever given to our organization in the close to 35 years we’ve existed.”

In addition to the donation presented at Sportsfest, SAAC will make a second donation to Special Olympics for $500.

Russel said, “The relationship between our group and Arcadia began over 25 years ago as a relationship between our group and Beaver College.  Since that time, that relationship has only grown stronger. With our group now numbering over 80 athletes, conducting our Thursday night practices and handling the coaching responsibilities at competitions would not be possible without the volunteer efforts of our dedicated Arcadia volunteer student coaches.  Some of those students have gone onto become actual certified Special Olympic coaches.”

“I believe anytime our Arcadia students can work with another group outside of our campus community it expands our students’ horizons and experiences.  Special Olympics is a fantastic organization and I am very excited that our students joined together and raised money for this group,” says Lorie Kahlil, SAAC Chair and Head Coach of Arcadia University’s Women’s Basketball Team.