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UTPB becomes official Special Olympics college

Feb. 13—University of Texas Permian Basin has become an official Special Olympics college program and a Special Olympics student organization has been created.

A community kick-off is set for Feb. 17, Vice President of Community Engagement and Partnerships Jacqui Gore said.

"We want to encourage Special Olympics athletes from across the Permian Basin to join us that day. We will have five-on-five basketball games during the halftime of the UT Permian Basin women's and men's basketball games. Following the men's basketball game, the UT Permian Basin basketball players will host a basketball clinic for Special Olympics athletes. That will start around 5 p.m.," Gore said.

Following the clinic and the game, UTPB will host a Special Olympics dance with a 1950s sock hop theme.

"Many of these athletes will be coming in from the surrounding area. We're going to make a really fun day of this. All of this is in coordination with Special Olympics Texas. They are the source to get the information out to teams that are already registered through Special Olympics," Gore said.

"This is a great time for families with maybe a special needs individual who wants to get involved, this would be a great time to come and learn more about the opportunities available in Special Olympics. We want to encourage community volunteers to join us. This is a great time if you would like to get involved as a volunteer with Special Olympics, join us that day and we can share the information about those opportunities available to you. This is all in an effort to expand the opportunities for Special Olympics athletes in the Permian Basin because we know there are many more individuals who could participate who haven't had the opportunity for whatever reason," she added.

Gore added that Special Olympics offers different competitions locally on a regular basis. There is a basketball tournament coming up in March.

Events can be found at tinyurl.com/bdtz6hz6

Special Olympics was the first project Gore worked on when she joined UTPB in September 2023.

She added that competitions have taken place on the UTPB campus and through the years the university's teams have been involved in various ways.

"What we're doing is really having an organized approach to make it the No. 1 nonprofit that we are serving here in the Permian Basin, as far as volunteer hours. They have many needs and we have the students and staff to meet those needs. That is why they have gotten college campuses across the country involved. The relationship between our students and staff and these Special Olympics athletes is beneficial for both parties," Gore said.

She added that she believes the volunteers get more out of it than the athletes do.

"We're thrilled to be involved with Special Olympics," Gore said.

She added that UTPB started working with J'Nette Thorne, executive director of the West Region of Special Olympics Texas.

"She is our primary contact for Special Olympics and has helped us through this process of becoming a Special Olympics college campus," Gore said.

College campuses across the state and country partner with Special Olympics to connect staff and students with Special Olympics volunteer opportunities.

"Some things that we're already working on with Special Olympics will be general volunteers for various different activities like movie nights, dances, coaches. We've had a number of students and staff who have been interested in coaching, which will help expand the capacity so that more individuals in the Permian Basin will have the opportunity to play on a team and possibly expand the selection of sports available," Gore said.

Officials are also needed, so UTPB is working on hosting a training session for Special Olympics officials.

"Another opportunity is that they have integrated athletic teams that are made up of Special Olympics athletes and college students or college staff. We have a number of, especially UTPB athletes, who are interested in playing alongside these Special Olympics athletes. Some of the sports we're looking at include basketball, soccer, flag football, softball, track and field and swimming. Also, our cheer and dance teams are interested in helping to launch cheer, which is a Special Olympics opportunity but it needs coordination," Gore added.

They spent the fall semester going through the process of becoming a Special Olympics college campus, creating the student organization and learning more about what people need to do to become officials and volunteers. This includes a background check.

"All of that is vetted on the Special Olympics side and then we just provide the information and the encouragement to participate. We had an official on-campus kickoff on Wednesday, Jan. 31. We were so happy with the response. We had approximately 250 students and staff in attendance," Gore said.

Zach Levesque, president of Special Olympics at the University of Texas Permian Basin, said he thinks UTPB joining up with Special Olympics is a wonderful initiative for the campus and community.

"Our school's involvement in this will help with boosting inclusivity and diversity not only on our campus but throughout our community as well. This partnership also gives students the opportunity to make new friends, learn, and create an atmosphere that gives a positive impact on the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities," Levesque said.

What made him want to get involved with Special Olympics at UTPB was his belief in fostering an environment that is inclusive of everyone, regardless of their intellectual abilities or backgrounds.

"I'm passionate about creating spaces where everyone feels valued and included, and the Special Olympics provides a perfect opportunity to promote this vision of inclusivity. Building an organization that helps with welcoming and building acceptance through various sports and community engagement will inevitably build a campus and a community that fosters a culture of celebrating diversity and pushes people to be themselves. This organization also allows me to put my passion for sports and my desire to make a positive impact on my campus and within the Permian Basin. I believe that everyone deserves the change to participate in sports and recreation, regardless of their abilities, and Special Olympics provides a platform to do so. Being a part of this organization gives me the opportunity to create a more inclusive campus environment," Levesque wrote in a text message.

He added that he won't be able to attend the community kickoff Saturday as he is competing in a swimming and diving conference in Colorado.

"However, I am still eagerly looking forward to hearing about the success and positive impact that this event will have on our community. It's events like these that will remind us of the importance of coming together to support a meaningful cause and promote inclusivity," Levesque said.

The student organization is currently waiting to be officially accepted into being initiated as a student organization with the UTPB Student Life department. However, they already have a strong backing of students who are eager to join once they are solidified as a student organization.

"We have seen a lot of involvement from the sports teams in helping getting this movement going in the Permian Basin. We currently have four officers. The officers consist of myself (Zach Levesque ) as President, Cassie Rother as our Vice president, Tamia Flores as our secretary, and Grace Feddern as the Treasurer," Levesque wrote.

If people are interested in volunteering, they may contact Gore at [email protected]