ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — In a day dedicated to sweeping away misconceptions, 16 teams from five Olean area schools will partake in a day packed full of friendly competition, pep band tunes and celebratory award ceremonies this Friday.
The Special Olympics Unified Basketball Competition, made possible through the efforts of countless community volunteers, donations from the Knights of Columbus, St. Bonaventure University's ENACTUS and Portville Central School's meal service and by sponsorships from local groups, will begin at 9 a.m. with the Trooper Ross M. Riley leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
The memorial leg, spanning 3.1 miles, commemorates the life and legacy of Riley, a 17-year New York State police veteran who patrolled the Allegany area and died during a training exercise at Letchworth State Park in November 2013. Runners from local municipalities and St. Bonaventure University's ROTC program will weave through the streets of Olean, following law enforcement officials who will carry the Flame of Hope. The run will conclude in the Reilly Center Arena, just in time for the day's official opening ceremonies.
The events are meant to celebrate the successes of those involved in the Unified Sports program, which provides an opportunity for students with and without intellectual disabilities to interact and compete in an athletic setting.
"The whole idea is about inclusivity," Dr. Paula Scraba, an associate professor of physical education at St. Bonaventure who has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1975, said. "It’s become a really good experience for the student with the disability and the student without the disability to interact on a totally different level."
Corinne Quinn, a Unified Basketball coach and special education teacher at Allegany-Limestone Elementary, said she's noticed the inclusivity firsthand.
"It's great, honestly, to see the camaraderie among the students," Quinn said. "And we definitely wouldn't have been able to do this without the help of St. Bonaventure."
Since January, students in two sections of Scraba's university forum classes have been helping to plan the event. From creating posters, making parking arrangements and coordinating volunteers to coaching the student athletes at Allegany-Limestone Central Schools, students in these classes have dedicated hours of their time to ensuring the event runs smoothly.
"We would not be able to do this if it wasn’t for the students," Scraba said. "To choose this section of senior forum says something about them, that they’re willing to put into practice what they’ve been sitting behind a desk for for the last four years. There’s no way I’d be able to do this without athletics and administration and the little people behind the scenes like maintenance and ROTC. It’s a great community builder and something that people can relate to that they want to be part of."
The community building will be helped along by the Allegany-Limestone Pep Band, by the daughters of Riley (one of whom will be joining an Olean High School student to sing the national anthem) and by more than 50 student volunteers from the Allegany-Limestone and Olean school districts alone.
"We're so excited," said Alicia Bockmier, Committee on Special Education chairperson for Allegany-Limestone Elementary. "Go Gators!"
All are invited to watch the competition and to cheer on the athletes as they compete in four rounds of play. The day's festivities will conclude with an awards ceremony at 1 p.m.