(FAYETTEVILLE, NC) - This past week, the USA South Athletic Conference conducted all six of its spring championships at the annual Spring Sports Festival in Burlington, North Carolina. An added bonus to this year's tournaments was the presence of Special Olympics Alamance County athletes who helped open and close each of the tournaments. The Special Olympians were at each venue and threw out first pitches, hit ceremonial first tee-shots and high-fived starters as each tournament got underway.
At Burlington Athletic Stadium, Quante Fuller tossed the first pitch of the baseball tournament while at Springwood Park, Corey Clapp and Phillip Buzzell each manned a field and fired simultaneous first softball tournament pitches. Clapp and Buzzell then headed across the park to the lacrosse tournament and welcomed the Christopher Newport and Ferrum players as they took the field for starting lineups. Down the road at Stoney Creek Golf Club, Shawn Majors hit a ceremonial first tee-shot right down the center of the first fairway. Finally, at the Burlington Tennis Center, Kelly Noyes was on court while the starting lineups for both the men's and women's tennis tournament matches were announced.
At the final day of each tournament, each of the athletes who helped begin the tournaments, assisted USA South Commissioner Rita Wiggs in honoring newly crowned USA South champions during tournament-concluding award ceremonies. The lone addition to the original Special Olympians who opened the tournaments was at baseball where Jeremiah Fuller joined his brother Quante.
For photos of the Special Olympians at the Sports Festival, please CLICK HERE!
This Special Olympic involvement stems from the 2011 NCAA Convention when the NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Special Olympics announced a partnership. This partnership is designed to improve the lives of Special Olympics athletes through their involvement with Division III student-athletes and to foster a mutual learning experience between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes. The partnership aligns with the Division III attribute of citizenship in the division’s strategic-positioning platform. The federated structure of Special Olympics organizations around the country provides opportunities for Division III student-athletes in every state to participate in a variety of existing programs or create their own service opportunities.
The USA South's involvement with Special Olympics began in the fall (see here) as athletes from the Stonewall Therapeutic Center in Danville, Virginia joined the starting lineups of USA South women's soccer tournament finalists, Christopher Newport University and Shenandoah University. Also, this spring, during the USA South's spring community initiative "Pennies for a Purpose", Conference institutions raised $1,638.91 (see here) to be donated to local Special Olympic organizations. Currently, several USA South institutions have long standing relationships their local Special Olympic organizations.