Last week, SOPA Unified, an eSports team representing Special Olympics Pennsylvania competed in the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) Unified Rocket League Championship tournament! The team, consisting of four Special Olympics Pennsylvania athletes and one coach from the Greater Lehigh Valley Pocono Region, faced Utah Gamurs in the final and fell just short of winning the whole thing, claiming a silver medal in the 4-2 best-of-seven series loss.
Since October, 2021, SOPA Unified has played Rocket League — a video game that combines soccer and car racing — every Wednesday night. The team members, Dylan Smith, Brandon Batres, Richard Klingensmith and Juvantie Ortiz, as well as coach Cody Dalton, have different experience levels playing Rocket League, but focused on building team chemistry and encouraging one another all season en route to making the finals in their inaugural campaign.
Everyone on the team, aka The Demo Squad, loves eSports and the weekly competition and bonding sessions have brought everyone close together.
If you’d like to watch a replay of the finals against Special Olympics Utah, please click here.
Meet the Team Dylan Smith (Team Berks): Has been playing Rocket League for less than a year, enjoys working out and making scarves.
Brandon Batres (Team Lehigh): Has been playing Rocket League for less than a year, enjoys traveling and playing soccer.
Richard Klingensmith (Team Lehigh): Has been playing Rocket league for three years, enjoys playing video games and sports.
Juvantie Ortiz (Team Lehigh): Has been playing Rocket League for one year, enjoys hockey and hanging out with friends.
We are so proud of our Special Olympics Pennsylvania athletes, families and volunteers in Columbia/Montour who have been coming together almost every week to participate in a walking club led by Athlete Leaders. What began as a group of friends walking together in the mall has now become a wonderful addition to their trainings and health and fitness routines. They have found ways to add fun to their weekly walks such as including balloons into their walking to help work on their balance.
They also have enjoyed socializing together after their walks and have even celebrated birthdays together. The have recently moved their walking to the local YMCA. Way to go Columbia/Montour walking club on staying active and fit!
Athlete Leaders, called Health and Fitness Coordinators, can plan and offer year round walking clubs. By offering a club, athletes, unified partners, coaches, families and volunteers have the opportunity to become more healthy and fit where they live, not just at Special Olympics Pennsylvania events. Local and ongoing opportunities are where people will experience a difference in their health and fitness!
If you would like to start a walking club for your local program consider becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator. Like any Athlete Leader, a Health and Fitness Coordinator must also have a Mentor. If you don’t have a Mentor, please contact Jordan Schubert at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as your Local Program Manager/Director. Once you have a Mentor, you will then be given instructions on next steps towards becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator.
FUNfitness was developed in collaboration with the American Physical Therapy Association and provides athletes the opportunity to be screened for flexibility, functional strength, and balance. The screenings are provided by physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, or physical therapy students.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania developed a unique partnership with American Physical Therapy Association- Pennsylvania to provide volunteers for the FUNfitness events.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania also partners with universities to provide student volunteers for FUNfitness events.
This experience provides opportunities for physical therapy students to interact with athletes with intellectual disabilities while also gaining experience in the screening process.
Research shows that over 80 percent of healthcare providers are not professionally trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities. By partnering with Universities, we are directly addressing this issue and providing students with this training and experiences.
We caught up with Natalie Albright, a former student (who is now a PT working with children with intellectual disabilities), to see what she had to say about FUNfitness! Check it out:
Participating in this event made me realize that I may be seriously interested in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities one day. This was something that I had only briefly considered previously because I was never sure if I would be able to do it.
Overall, it was really awesome to get to be a part of something bigger than myself and to see how much the Special Olympics clearly means to all those involved
I feel as though I was able to learn a lot through experiencing new situations firsthand (which is my favorite, most effective way to learn), while also helping a fantastic organization. I appreciate any opportunity to apply what we have been learning about in our classes to real-life situations because it serves as reassurance that all the lectures we sit through really do matter and will benefit us in our careers. I regret never getting involved with the Special Olympics before this point, but I am grateful to have had the chance to get involved now and I hope to return to volunteer in the future.