Framingham State will be receiving $500 toward this year’s Special Olympics for winning the September 2016 Special Olympics Spotlight Poll by the NCAA and Division III Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
Will Reddy, program coordinator for Student Involvement and Leadership Development (SILD), said each month the NCAA selects three programs which submitted materials about their Special Olympics events to be featured in a poll for that month’s Special Olympics Spotlight. Whichever program has the most votes is awarded $500 for their event.
“It’s really beneficial to the kids. In that situation, who loses?” Reddy said.
The NCAA partnership with SAAC was launched in 2011 to “provide a platform for recognition of Special Olympics athletes and Division III student-athletes within their communities and raise awareness of Special Olympics, its programs and services,” according to ncaa.org.
Out of the 3,635 votes, Framingham State had 1,789 votes, Albion College in Michigan had 1,740 votes and Stevenson University in Maryland had 106 votes.
“All three are amazing colleges,” said Reddy. He added the September poll had triple the votes than previous polls, and a large part of the turn-out – on Framingham State’s part – was the use of social media to spread the poll.
Reddy said SILD shared the poll on its Facebook page and the initial post was seen over 10,000 times.
Hailey Small, a sophomore and a coordinator for the Special Olympics, said it was “amazing” to see how involved everyone was in sharing the poll and voting.
According to Small, last year they were able to get all the decorations and signs from SILD, so now that they will received $500 in funds, the “goal for this year is growth, in whatever ways possible.”
Reddy said the Town of Framingham gives FSU the space for the Special Olympics for free, and they pay for a police detail and small expenses, such as snacks.
Fallon Soye, a junior and a coordinator for the Special Olympics, said the extra money “will definitely make the event better for the kids.” She added they could buy more medals for events and hand out other prizes, such as water bottles or lanyards.
Kayleigh MacMaster, a sophomore and a coordinator for the Special Olympics, said, “I got the email from Will [Reddy] and I put it online, and then two weeks went by and nothing happened. Then someone else put it back online so everyone was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is happening.’”
During the Special Olympics, events include a wheelchair race, 50-meter walk, 50-meter run, 100-meter run, shot put and long-jump. Each kid can participate in at least two events.
“It’s legitimate events,” said Soye. “I think people sometimes think it’s dumbed down, but it’s not. These kids are running and … doing their absolute best. It’s amazing.”
MacMaster said the Special Olympics is an event, “where they can actually do something and win, it’s awesome.”
Small said the Special Olympics is “something that everyone can get behind, as was apparent in the poll. A lot of people were involved with that. … It’s kind of cool how everyone can reach out in a different way, whether it’s athletics or just working with kids.”
For anyone interested in volunteering, Soye said, “Trust me, if you go, you’ll want to come back. It’s not just the people you volunteer with. It’s just the event itself that was so rewarding – the kids’ smiles, everything.”
Matt Banks, a junior, said his friend shared the post for the poll on Facebook. “I went and voted, and I’m happy that we got it. I think it will be amazing.”
Trinity Infantino, a senior, said she has not been to the event but “I think that’s awesome that we won.”
Cass Doherty, a sophomore, volunteered at FSU’s Special Olympics last year because she “thought it would be a good way to get involved with something on campus that would help other people. It’s very exciting we won because it gives us the opportunity to do it even better.”
She added she “voted twice a day” and got her family and friends involved.
Small, Soye and MacMaster all said that for anyone interested in volunteering for this year’s Special Olympics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor’s note: Cass Doherty is a member of The Gatepost]