BOONE, N.C. — Mountaineer volunteers made an impact at the 2018 Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) Watauga County Sports Expo last week. Appalachian State University students and alumni helped plan and operate the annual event, held by Watauga County Parks and Recreation to provide an opportunity for members of the special needs community to try out new sports and explore the Special Olympics program.
The expo was held at the Old Cove Creek School Gym in Sugar Grove. Ninety individuals participated in the event, including those who are in classes offered by the Watauga County Exceptional Children Department at Hardin Park Elementary and Watauga High School, and adult members of the Watauga County special needs community.
Appalachian alumna Keron Poteat ’95, coordinator of Special Olympics Watauga County, oversaw the expo.
Participants were divided into age groups and rotated among five sports stations:
- Flag football, led by Josh Murphy, an Appalachian junior majoring in recreation management.
- Bocce, led by A.J. Golz, an Appalachian junior majoring in recreation management.
- Tennis, led by Kylie Palmer, an Appalachian junior majoring in recreation management.
- “Cardio Groove,” led by Amber Hendley, director of High Country Dance Studio.
- Stretching, led by former Appalachian athletics director and retired health and science professor Roachel Laney.
At each station, station leaders explained basic rules and engaged the participants through warmup exercises and activities to teach skills involved in the sport.
Through their involvement in the expo, several Appalachian students, including Murphy, Golz and Palmer, fulfilled requirements for their Recreation Program Planning class, which is taught by Dr. Stephanie West, professor in Appalachian’s Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education.
“Students in my class are assigned to work in groups of three to four, with one of 15–17 recreation programs in our community,” West explained. “Each spring, some of our students work with Keron to develop and implement the spring games for Watauga County Special Olympics. That experience was so special that we began offering the expo for a similar experience in the fall.”
West continued, “Through this program, students gain direct experience in how to develop and implement a recreation program. Because of the valuable work (performed) by the program supervisors, such as Keron Poteat, this course is consistently ranked as the most valuable course in their (students’) college career.”
Poteat agreed that the partnership between her department and Appalachian’s recreation management program is invaluable.
“It helps me out by spreading my work load a little bit, and gives the students a great opportunity to learn real-world stuff. The students get to experience how things actually happen, versus an ideal plan in a hypothetical situation,” she said. “For example, the morning of the expo, A.J. Golz was supposed to pick up coffee, but the order wasn’t ready when she arrived. So, that put her behind on all of her other preparations, and she had to make adjustments.”
Poteat stressed that volunteering and internships give students an advantage when pursuing careers after graduation.
Golz chose to work with the SONC project to honor the memory of a friend. “The Special Olympics really intrigued me because my best friend, Polly Rogers, passed away in spring and she wanted to dedicate her life to the special needs community. It’s something that I really wanted to do in honor of her.”
“I’ve volunteered at Special Olympic events in Charlotte before, but I’ve never been a part of planning an event like this,” Golz said. “It’s meaningful because we get to have fun with all of these awesome individuals out here. I think it brings together a unique community that we don’t get exposure to on a regular basis.”
Palmer also has prior experience volunteering with the Special Olympics. “Back in Delaware, I volunteered with the Polar Plunge a couple of times, an event benefitting the Special Olympics,” she said.
Palmer said she plans to stay involved with the Special Olympics after graduation. “This is right down my alley. This is what I’d like to do with my career.”
Several of the student volunteers were not associated with the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education. Ari Assad, an Appalachian senior majoring in public health, volunteered as an “athlete buddy” at the expo. “I go alongside the athlete and encourage them and help them with their sport,” she said.
This is Assad’s second year volunteering at the expo. She got involved after seeing a flyer in one of the buildings on Appalachian’s campus.
“I definitely want to stay involved with Special Olympics,” Assad said. “Wherever I end up, I want to serve the local chapter as a coach or volunteer. Interacting with the athletes, seeing their smiles and the fun they’re having, really brightens my day!”
Sixteen Appalachian students were among the volunteers at the expo.
Poteat summed up the day’s success: “It couldn’t have been a better day. The combination of our special athletes mixed with the support of our High Country community is just top-notch.”
About the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education
The Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education in Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences is an innovative, diverse and forward-thinking academic unit consisting of two undergraduate programs. The recreation management program prepares students for careers as professionals in three concentrations: commercial recreation and tourism management, outdoor experiential education, and recreation and park management. The health and physical education program prepares students for careers as K-12 health and physical educators, school-based activity directors and coaches. Learn more at https://rmpe.appstate.edu.
About the Beaver College of Health Sciences
Appalachian's Beaver College of Health Sciences opened in 2010 as the result of a strategic university commitment to significantly enhance the health and quality of life for individuals, families and communities in North Carolina and beyond. In 2015, the college was named for an Appalachian alumnus and pioneer in the health care industry — Donald C. Beaver ’62 ’64 of Conover. The college offers 10 undergraduate degree programs and six graduate degree programs, which are organized into six departments: Communication Sciences and Disorders; Health and Exercise Science; Nursing; Nutrition and Health Care Management; Recreation Management and Physical Education; and Social Work. Learn more at https://healthsciences.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.