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Holy Cross Students and Special Olympic Athletes Partner Up On-and-Off the Field

HC Goes Unified to play last game on Sunday
November 9th, 2011 by 

HC Goes Unified

Last spring, Matt Zielinski ’13, Archie Bellos ’12 and Chris Tota ’13 started a new program: HC Goes Unified, which is now a Recognized Student Organization (RSO).

“It’s unlike any other program on this campus,” shares Zielinski, who is in the premedical program at the College. “It is informal. It is hilarious. It is challenging. It is rewarding. But most of all, it is fun.”

HC Goes Unified invites Special Olympians to campus on Sundays to play sports together with Holy Cross students. (They play soccer in the fall and basketball in the spring.) Tota, a biology major, says nearly 50-60 Holy Cross students show up to play on the same field or court with the Special Olympians.

“For two hours a week, the stigmas and stereotypes for individuals with intellectual disabilities disappear as HC Goes Unified hopes to create an equal peer-to-peer environment between the student body and Special Olympics athletes,” shares Bellos, an English major from Worcester, who hopes to work with Special Olympics athletes after he graduates. “I got involved with HC Goes Unified to hopefully ignite the same passions within my friends and fellow students that I have, and to create something really special and unique here on campus.”

Bellos says it’s such a rewarding feeling to work with these individuals not for personal recognition, “but to see their smiles as they score a goal or make a basket.”

While Unified sports programs are growing across the country, not many programs have been successful on the College level. The trio attributes their success in part to Alec Levine, Hopkinton Special Olympics program director, who brings many of his Special Olympic athletes to the games at Hoy Cross. “It was clear from our first meeting that Matt, Archie and Chris had a contagious energy that would serve my athletes well,” shares Levine. “The athletes and their parents that attended the first session were excited, looking forward to a positive experience. What we found, however, exceeded all expectations. Especially happy were the parents of the athletes, noting the positive social interaction between their children and the students. Sundays have become a special day for the athletes of Hopkinton Special Olympics.”

The athletes and the Holy Cross students have formed relationships on-and-off the field. A parent who had seen the positive impact of her daughter’s experience, approached Zielinski about extending the relationship between the students and athletes to include a mentoring component. “With his typical enthusiasm, Matt quickly responded and a mentoring program was born,” shares Levine. “This will add another dimension to enriching the lives of our athletes.”

Zielinski, who plans to work for the Special Olympics National Games and then attend medical school after graduation, hopes this program will give the athletes a chance to experience something new. “It is quite sad to say, but most, if not all individuals with intellectual disabilities, will never have the opportunity to experience college,” explains Zielinski. “HC Goes Unified gives Special Olympics Massachusetts athletes the opportunity to experience a college atmosphere.”

Levine, who says he has been involved in another college’s program, attests: “The HC Goes Unified program could serve as a model for enhancing the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities. I applaud the Holy Cross students and administration for their efforts.”

For the last game of the season the HC Goes Unified team will play against the Holy Cross men’s and women’s soccer teams, this Sunday, Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. on the Hart AstroTurf field. After the game there will be awards, prizes, and dinner.

Come cheer on the teams or consider joining this win-win program.

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