UNC ASHEVILLE ATHLETICS AND WALNUT COVE MEMBERS ASSOCIATION PARTNER TO OUTFIT SPECIAL OLYMPICS ATHLETES WITH NEW UNIFORMS
On July 18, 2016, the Buncombe County Special Olympics basketball team converged on the Kimmel Arena at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Athletes shot hoops with members of the UNC Asheville men’s and women’s basketball teams in between trying on shoes. They enthusiastically declared their favorite numbers as a volunteer recorded what would appear on the back of their new jersey. The arena could barely contain the excitement of the Buncombe County Special Olympics athletes who relished the attention. Buncombe County Special Olympic athletes were enthusiastic about the prospect of proper-fitting uniforms that would sharpen their team’s appearance. The event had a profoundly meaningful impact as Buncombe County Special Olympics athletes told coordinators the night had been their favorite event and reached out over social media to inform their friends and family.
Buncombe County Special Olympics never charges its athletes a fee. Athletes can sign up for any of the programs for absolutely free. Soccer, basketball, bocce, gymnastics, cheerleading, aquatics, bowling are all among the sports that a qualified Special Olympics athlete can engage locally without having to worry about a registration fee, uniform costs, or costs associated with travel. With events ranging from year round sports practices to multi-day state level competitions, the cost absorbed by Buncombe County Special Olympics is pretty significant.
Karla Furnari an organizer with Buncombe County Special Olympics points out, ”It is important to let our athletes participate at no cost. Many of our athletes are already limited to what they can afford due to medical cost and challenges in finding employment. Special Olympics is an outlet for our athletes to engage with the community and stay focused on their health and wellness. Without the no fee policy, many of our athletes would not be able to participate. For some, it is one of the few social opportunities they have.”
Running a program that is entirely dependent on volunteer labor and external fundraising means that purchases and spending must be prioritized. Unfortunately uniforms can often be toward the bottom of the list of priorities as logistics and facilities costs associated with keeping the athletes in play represent critical program needs.
Susan Paoletti, a long-time program volunteer, can attest to the struggle with ensuring athletes are able to frame their accomplishments with an appearance that rivals that of their peers in mainstream community sports. Paoletti spends hours sorting uniforms to ensure that athletes have the best fit available and reclaims the uniforms following each event. In addition to the many hours she already spends with the program, she stewards the programs valuable resources as the program’s self-appointed equipment manager. Her diligence keeps the existing uniforms limping along from season-to-season.
Kevin O’Connor, a new volunteer with Buncombe County Special Olympics, first encountered the uniform issue after coaching members of the basketball team at a regional scrimmage held in early 2016. O’Connor set out on a mission to outfit the team with real basketball apparel and worked in the background to make the necessary connections.
O’Connor’s quest for uniforms began with Ahmad Thomas. O’Connor was mentoring Thomas, jersey number 14 for UNC Asheville’s men’s basketball. O’Connor had originally intended to repurpose UNC Asheville’s used basketball equipment in hopes of transitioning Buncombe County Special Olympics out of their aged t-shirts and shorts that had long since become obsolete in basketball fashion.
Relationships continued to develop and solidify as Thomas facilitated connections to UNC Asheville Athletic Director Janet R. Cone and women’s basketball coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick. Adidas and First Team Sports were integrated into the project allowing new uniforms to be put in reach of Buncombe County Special Olympics at a substantially reduced cost.
Rather than coming back to the program with the reduced price, O’Connor went the extra mile. Approaching the Walnut Cove Members’ Association with a request to cover the remaining portion of the cost, O’Connor was able source full Adidas uniform sets at no cost to Buncombe County Special Olympics.
Athletes will soon receive their new apparel, fully customized with Buncombe County Special Olympics logos. They will be able to premier the uniforms at the Special Olympics North Carolina Fall Tournament in November.
Buncombe County Special Olympics is a year round athletics program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The largest event hosted by Buncombe County Special Olympics is the annual “Spring Games” which will be hosted on May 5, 2016. For information on the program
Information can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/buncombecountyspecialolympics/