Several members of the University community – including a group of Pompea College of Business students – recently represented the University at the Special Olympics USA Games in Florida. There, they had meaningful opportunities to interact with athletes and their coaches while gaining hands-on experience at a large-scale sporting event.
June 23, 2022
Mackenzie Evans ’22, ’23 M.S. recently spent time in Florida volunteering at the Special Olympics USA Games where she helped check her fellow volunteers at the bocce event. Volunteering with several of her fellow Chargers, she also had the opportunity to interact with the athletes.
Evans was one of several Pompea College of Business undergraduate and graduate students who spent a week volunteering at the Special Olympics. She says getting to know the athletes was one of the highlights of the experience.
“The interaction with the athletes was very genuine,” said Evans, a new business management graduate who will begin her master’s degree in sport management this fall. “Getting to know where they are from and how long they have been playing bocce was just spectacular. I also learned that these athletes don’t just play bocce – half of them play at least one other sport as well.”
‘A once in a lifetime opportunity’
Held at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, the event drew hundreds of athletes for the bocce competition. Abby Reynolds ’23 M.S., who helped check in volunteers and assisted with presenting awards and scoring, particularly enjoyed volunteering at the athlete staging area, where she interacted with the athletes and their coaches before their competitions.
“Getting to know them and their stories and seeing them compete was one of the best and most rewarding experiences,” said Reynolds, a candidate in the University’s graduate program in sport management. “Their excitement about competing was contagious. It was awesome having them show their medals after the awards and come up and tell us how they did.”
Avery Alessi ’23, a sport management major, added, “The most rewarding part of the experience was being able to interact with the athletes and being able to make that connection with them and cheer them on.”
The goal throughout the experience was to enable the students to grow as leaders while gaining hands-on experience. It was also an opportunity for them to make connections while making a meaningful difference.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students,” said Ceyda Mumcu, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Sport Management Department. “They gained experience in operation of a large-scale sporting event in which more than 5,500 athletes, 10,000 volunteers, and 125,000 spectators were present. More importantly, our students’ involvement in the games is a contribution toward a more inclusive world. As they say in Special Olympics, ‘a world where we all shine as one.’”
‘Volunteering is a great experience’
Laura Duncan ’18 M.S., head coach of the Chargers women’s soccer team, accompanied the students on the trip. She says this was one of the “most memorable” experiences she has had at the University.
“I am extremely grateful that I was offered the opportunity to join our students on an amazing trip,” she said. “The experience was eye-opening, and, needless to say, very impressive.
“Our students were placed into a new role, with limited training due to time restraints,” she continued. “They problem-solved with efficiency, they acted professionally, and they represented our University in the highest regard. Many people asked me where we had come from, and I was so excited to say we were there on behalf of the University of New Haven. Every scenario the students encountered, they handled with the biggest smile on their faces.”
Evans, the recent business management grad, says she’s grateful for the opportunity, and that volunteering can be rewarding in myriad ways.
“If anyone has this opportunity in the future to volunteer at the Special Olympics or at any event, go,” she said. “Volunteering is a great experience and a great place to network. You never know who you will meet or what doors volunteering will open for you.”