Unified sports club continues to thrive with virtual practices

By Christian McCarville

Unified sports is one of the most fulfilling and gratifying organizations that Rider has to offer. With an emphasis on inclusion and friendly competition, the club pairs Rider students with Special Olympics athletes in a variety of different sports.

Junior finance major Sam Poehlmann explained what originally brought him to joining the unified sports club and his experience since then.

“I thought it would be a rewarding experience and it has been,” said Poehlmann. “The athletes have great personalities and it always makes me smile. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to return the favor.”

The club typically hosts unified soccer during the fall semester and unified basketball in the spring. However, this semester is anything but typical.

Taking safety precautions and protective measures against COVID-19, unified sports is now holding virtual practices for members. This allows the club to continue operations, making full use of Zoom video chat and other online applications.

The club meets weekly over Zoom for practice. To keep things interesting, participants get to vote on the theme for the Zoom meeting each week. Past themes have included wearing sports jerseys, unified gear and pajama day.

The club also prepares fun activities for each week’s Zoom meeting. Junior computer science major and President of unified sports and junior computer science major Elizabeth O’Hara, gave some insight as to what activities are done during these meetings.

“We always begin with some sort of get-to-know-you activity such as Something in Common, Pits and Peaks of the week, and explaining our favorite picture on our phone,” said O’Hara. “We also still like to find ways to get our members moving, so we have been using Special Olympics’ YouTube channel for virtual yoga and fitness classes. We then move into breakout rooms and have activities like trivia, Scattergories, scavenger hunts and Pictionary. We end every practice by announcing a Partner and Athlete of the week.”

The unified sports club also has plans to collaborate with the Council for Exceptional Children and other college unified programs in hosting more virtual events. Opening the doors for more virtual opportunities allows all members of the club to continue participating and staying in touch while also keeping safe.

“There’s no doubt that we’d rather be in person playing sports, but we’ve still had fun online,” said Poehlmann. “We are going to start playing some e-sports, namely Rocket League, so that should be enjoyable as well.”

These e-sports are a great remote opportunity for the club and they are offered through Special Olympics New Jersey.

“We compete individually every week as a club and at the end of the season we will be participating in the unified cup against local college unified programs,” said O’Hara.

The bonds and friendships formed within Rider’s unified sports club appear to be unphased by the ongoing pandemic. The club, like many others, adapted to their circumstances and made adjustments to continue practicing inclusion and acceptance.

“Our athlete’s enthusiasm, determination and sportsmanship inspire me every day and reminds me that I should be working to build a culture of inclusion and respect everywhere I go,” said O’Hara. “sports are a powerful agent for social change, and I am glad that Rider unified is part of being an equalizer.”

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