NEAC SAAC Partners with Special Olympics for Third Straight Year During Conference’s Annual Community Outreach Initiative

Members from Special Olympics New York and the NEAC North SAAC pose together before taking part in basketball skills training session, which was held at Morrisville State College.
Members from Special Olympics New York and the NEAC North SAAC pose together before taking part in basketball skills training session, which was held at Morrisville State College.

GANSEVOORT, N.Y. – For the third straight year, the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) teamed up with Special Olympics for the conference’s annual community outreach initiative, as the NEAC SAAC was involved with two separate Special Olympics events on Sunday, April 7. 

With 13 full-member schools spread out across four different states, the NEAC holds two separate community service events with its six North schools (Cazenovia College, Keuka College, Morrisville State College, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Institute of Technology and Wells College) and seven South schools (College of Saint Elizabeth, Gallaudet University, Lancaster Bible College, Penn State Abington, Penn State Berks, Penn State Harrisburg and Wilson College).  The North members held a basketball training session in partnership with Special Olympics New York for the third straight year, while the South volunteered at the 2013 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Eastern Bowling Sectional in Allentown, Pa., after also doing so last year.   

Twenty Special Olympians from the Syracuse, N.Y., area accompanied by four of their coaches joined 19 members of the NEAC North SAAC for the basketball training session, which was held at Morrisville State College in Morrisville, N.Y.  Run by NEAC SAAC advisors and head women’s basketball coaches Steve Kaneshiki (Morrisville State) and Mike O’Brien (Wells), the athletes from both sides went through a variety of basketball drills involving shooting, passing and dribbling, while also competing in multiple mixed scrimmages.  

Special Olympics head basketball coach Jeff Manzo noted that the familiarization with holding the same event last year really helped both sides know what to expect from one another, but at the same time, it was another great learning experience for both sets of athletes. 

“Just like last year, there were quite a few surprised faces when they saw how well our athletes played and followed instructions,” Manzo said.  “I think for [the NEAC] students, it was an afternoon where they saw in many ways that our guys and gals were no different than typical kids who give their all and have hopes and dreams just like they do.”     

Kaneshiki felt that the event brought out the best from both groups, both personally and athletically.

“I thought it was fantastic for both parties to come together and learn from each other,” Kaneshiki said.  “What I noticed the most was how serious and competitive the Special Olympians were.  It was not ‘play around time’ for them; they were very serious and really took it to us.  Their goal was to beat our student-athletes and show them what they had.” 

Manzo agreed. 

“There were smiles all around and our athletes thought it was great to be able to play a game with the college students,” Manzo said before recalling a memorable moment from the event.  “You should have seen the look on the face of our 6-foot-2, 270-pound ‘A Team’ center when one of the NEAC’s lady basketball players took it to him and put a layup up and in. It was priceless!” 

“You know the afternoon was a success when our players were all asking if they can come and watch your teams compete next season,” added Manzo.  “If we can do this every year, it would be great! It’s truly a win-win situation.”  

Carley Carson (Oswego, N.Y.), a swimmer for Cazenovia College who served as the NEAC North SAAC Chair this past year, said she was honored to be a part of what she described as “a wonderful event.”  

“I am so proud to be a NEAC student-athlete and be able to have the opportunity to take part in such a great event,” said Carson, a senior.  “All of the student-athletes that attended really seemed to enjoy the day and were very engaged. Personally, I was able to set aside all of my worries with my homework and senior projects and just have fun working with the athletes!” 

Carson recalled a moment at the event where she was actually the one who received mentoring from one of the Special Olympians, rather than the other way around. 

“One thing that stood out to me was that during one of the drills with my group, where I could not make a left-handed layup, I told one of the athletes that I couldn't make them and he looked at me and simply said, 'You can do it! All you have to do is believe in yourself,’” explained Carson.  “That meant a lot to me because I realized that just believing in yourself will make everything better.  These athletes were so positive about everything and have such a great outlook and perspective on life.” 

The Eastern Bowling Sectional featured 325 Special Olympians spread out across three bowling alleys throughout Allentown, with 17 NEAC South SAAC student-athletes and six South SAAC advisors volunteering at the Playdrome Rose Bowl.  The group served as lane monitors for the event, as each student-athlete was assigned to a specific lane along with three Special Olympians and shadowed them to ensure that they bowled in the correct order and on the right lanes, while also recording the scores of the athletes for each of their three games.  Most importantly, each of the volunteers congratulated, cheered on and encouraged all of the Olympians throughout the day, which was capped off by an awards ceremony at each lane upon completion of the third game. 

Melissa Bennett (Nutley, N.J.) and Katie Warner (Fleetwood, Pa.), both sophomores on the Penn State Berks women’s soccer team, said they came away from the event with many new friends and are definitely looking forward to being involved with similar events in the future.  

“It was an even better time than I had expected,” exclaimed Bennett.  “It was such a surreal experience to have such a close interaction with the Special Olympians.” 

“It was so nice to help the Special Olympians have an enjoyable day,” added Warner. 

Junior Justin Henderson (Cherry Hill, N.J.), the NEAC SAAC South Chair and member of the Penn State Harrisburg men’s soccer team, said he now has a new perspective on approaching his sport after what he witnessed throughout the day. 

“The event was extremely fun because all the kids were excited to bowl and have fun, but at the same time, be competitive around each other,” Henderson said.  “This was a blessing in disguise because it taught me to take a different approach to my game by showing me that no matter what the circumstances are, having fun is the key aspect of performing to the best of your abilities.” 

Fellow Harrisburg soccer student-athlete Kara Hoy (Camp Hill, Pa.) agreed with Henderson’s new approach. 

“The biggest thing I got out of this was realizing that sports are about having fun and shouldn’t only be focused on winning,” said Hoy, a junior.  “If you enjoy the sport you play, then heart and passion will shine through while you are playing.” 

Junior Stephanie Weiss (Wellington, Fla.), Gallaudet University’s SAAC President and a member of the Bison’s women’s basketball team, was thankful for the opportunity to participate in the event and is now hoping to get Gallaudet involved with a Special Olympics event sometime in the next school year. 

“It was really a life-changing experience,” stated Weiss.

At the end of both events, drawstring bags donning the logos for both Special Olympics and NCAA Division III were presented to all Special Olympians in attendance.  The gift was well received, according to Special Olympics Pennsylvania Eastern Competition Director Steve Koch

The athletes loved them,” exclaimed Koch.  “[The NEAC] team was terrific!”  

The NEAC also used the day to recognize National STUDENT-Athlete Day by awarding all of the student-athletes that attended the events with award certificates that were provided by the National Consortium for Academics & Sports (NCAS).  National STUDENT-Athlete Day, which was officially celebrated on Saturday, April 6, was established by the NCAS 26 years ago to honor student-athletes who have achieved excellence in academics and athletics, while having made significant contributions to their schools and communities.  The day is celebrated annually and has become one of America’s strongest endeavors promoting the positive virtues of sport and student-athletes as a whole, and the positive affect they both have on society. 

For more information on National STUDENT-Athlete Day, please visit here.  Please click here for more information on Special Olympics New York and here for more information on Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

 

Members of the NEAC South SAAC pose together before volunteering at the 2013 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Eastern Bowling Sectional in Allentown, Pa.

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The North Eastern Athletic Conference has thirteen NCAA Division III member institutions which include: Cazenovia College, College of St. Elizabeth, Gallaudet University, Keuka College, Lancaster Bible College, Pennsylvania State University - Abington, Pennsylvania State University - Berks, Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Institute of Technology, SUNY Morrisville State College, Wells College, and Wilson College.  Associate members are: Hilbert College (M Lacrosse), Medaille College (M&W Lacrosse) and Rutgers University - Camden (M Golf & M Tennis).  The North Eastern Athletic Conference has partnered with the North Atlantic Conference in the sports of men’s and women’s tennis.