Special Olympics at Villanova go virtual this year

Special Olympics
The Special Olympics at Villanova University, 2019. Photo credit Villanova Special Olympics Media and Publicity Team

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Special Olympics have been around since 1968, so when it came time for Villanova University to make a decision whether to carry out the games this year, organizers decided they weren’t going to let the coronavirus pandemic upend the tradition.

This year’s theme is “The Spotlight Is Yours, Together We Shine!” And, it’s all online this year, at VirtualFallFest.org.

With everyone communicating over video conferences nowadays, Festival Director Nick Conti said the spotlight angle fits perfectly.

“We’re, like, physically giving the spotlight to the athletes this weekend, and I think that is the most special thing that we could have done,” he said.

Meghan Morrissette, director of competition, said 650 athletes from across the state are participating.

“They are at home with the online guidance of a coach and help from a parent or a guardian or a friend,” she explained, “to kind of keep track of their scores, or they’re going to their normal practice facilities and recording scores there.”

The goal was to make the athletes feel a part of the campus community.

“We were able to send athlete packs to every single athlete who is participating, full of the athlete gifts they would have received — you know, a water bottle, a mask, a lanyard that they would normally have their credentials on,” she added.

All athletes are competing in individual competitions at home, and they have been taped by coaches or family members. There are seven sports this year: bocce, long-distance running and walking, powerlifting, roller skating, volleyball, soccer, and flag football.

The competition involves the individual role played in each of those categories. For instance, how fast you can run the 50-yard dash, or how far you can throw a football.

The weekend’s activities include an opening ceremony and warm-up activities, hype videos, and even a virtual dance party.

“We can have every single athlete who’s on (the video call) kind of show their face dancing with the music in the background,” Conti added. “The DJ is the host for the entire event, so that’s super exciting.”

The Special Olympics is the world’s largest organization dedicated to promoting respect, inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities.

The event runs through Sunday.