Members of UM-Dearborn Special Olympics College Program pose for a photo. Photo courtesy of UM-Dearborn Special Olympics

By Courtney Morrison, Staff Reporter

In the fall of 2015, the University of Michigan-Dearborn became a part of the Special Olympics College Program.

Special Olympics College program is a non-profit organization that makes it possible for individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in athletics.

“The Special Olympics College program is specifically tailored for college students to play an active role in volunteering with the athletes,” said Evelyn Cramton, head of the Special Olympics College program and UM-Dearborn student. “There are a variety of ways in which students can be involved; however, our primary channel of involvement is through Unified basketball.”

Basketball games are played once a week for 12 weeks. College students play alongside Special Olympics athletes. There are currently 20 UM-Dearborn students who participate in the Unified basketball games.

“Our members are not solely limited to current UM-D students; we have students from Wayne State, Henry Ford, and even some UM-D alumni playing every week,” Cramton said. “You do not need to have any basketball or athletic experience for that matter.”

There are four Unified basketball teams. Each team plays against one another for several weeks and the last two weeks are reserved for the playoffs.

“For the student volunteers, it’s a great opportunity to make a positive impact on multiple lives in a team-oriented environment,” said Ricky Nehring, a student athlete who participates in the program.

“Witnessing the teamwork and friendships being developed between the Special Olympic athletes and college students each week is an inspiration to me,” Cramton added.

The goal of the Special Olympics program is to have Special Olympics athletes and students play alongside each other to realize they are not that different.

“For the athletes, it’s an amazing way to help build character, stay active, and enjoy a fun, competitive environment,” Nehring said.

“The athletes and students begin the season as strangers, unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable with the life that the other leads. Nonetheless, after spending week after week together, working towards a common goal, both parties come to realize that they are not so different after all,” Cramton added.

There will be another session of Unified basketball starting this summer. The only requirement to play is that participants are screened by Special Olympics Michigan.

“All we ask is that the participants are dedicated to our program and our athletes,” Cramton said. “If you cannot make the commitment, there are many other ways to stay involved by cheering our athletes on when you can attend.”

Students who would like to find out more information can go to the Special Olympics Facebook page, “UM-Dearborn Special Olympics,” or email ecramton@umich.edu.