PHOTO CAPTIONS: Sports Communication Program Coordinator Sandy Alspach is pictured in this photo with Jared Ozella, president of the Sports Careers RSO, and Savanna Stout, president of the Special Olympics College Club. Below, Alspach is again pictured with the award.
One of many organizations across the Ferris State University campus dedicated to supporting Area 5 Special Olympics was recently recognized for its efforts, as Sports Communication Program Coordinator Sandy Alspach, in the College of Arts, Sciences and Education, collected the Outstanding Education Award at the Michigan Special Olympics Hall of Fame 2018 dinner, hosted in Detroit.
“I was proud to receive the award and humbled that my name is on the plaque, but the real honor comes from overseeing each year’s worth of student-led programs that are offered to support these Olympians,” Alspach said. “Another registered student organization was the first group to be aligned with these events, but Sports Communication welcomed the opportunity to assume this role, and become champions for these very special people.”
Alspach said academic research has been completed and presented by Sports Communication students, which complements the experience that they have gained by managing fundraising events in addition to the personal benefit of spending time with the athletes as teammates and friends.
“Unified sport, where college students and Special Olympians play together in intramural activities, has a great impact on everyone taking part,” Alspach said. “Our students are proud of their involvement with Area 5 athletes, and the Special Olympians make it clear how important these programs are to them. Their unified teams are very competitive; the games are pursued as anyone might, who enjoys or even loves being part of a team.”
One of the focal points for these students and Olympians is the Heart to Heart, Hand in Hand basketball game, played each spring in Jim Wink Arena, with Ferris men’s and women’s basketball players joining the action.
“It is a ‘Red on White’ game, intermingling college athletes with Area 5 athletes in a very affirming event,” Alspach said. “Last spring, it was the 13th annual game, but I remember a few years ago, there was a great effort made to give Chuck Bradley, a Special Olympian with Down Syndrome, the chance to score the first basket. It took a couple of handoffs to get that done, and everyone was focused on giving him that moment. When Chuck died, the women’s team wore black armbands the next season, in his honor.”
Pat Rosales, the director of Special Olympics for Area 5, said the Sports Communication students, Ferris’ athletes and Alspach are dedicated to the program and cause.
“There have been four years of Unified Sports programs now, which shows the passion these students have for Special Olympics,” Rosales said. “One of the past Sports Communication chairs, Sean Williams, will go to work for SO in New Jersey once he returns from a Study Abroad experience. Another past chair, Megan Jean, is working for Special Olympics at their headquarters in the District of Columbia, to help take the Unified Sports concept nationwide.”
“Inclusion is not just a facet of Ferris’ core value of Diversity, it is very much in line with the Special Olympics mission,” Alspach said. “There’s a Unified volleyball tournament with teams of three students and three Special Olympians, and six-game tournaments for basketball, where two participants are Olympians. There’s a lot of camaraderie; the Olympians know their teammates’ names and everyone keeps an eye on the standings. I am confident our students will continue with this level of commitment and involvement.”