Villanova, Pa. -
The Villanova community hosted the 28th annual Special Olympics Fall Festival beginning Friday November 4th and ending Sunday November 8th. This event is the largest student-run fall festival in the world, which is organized entirely by a student-run committee, who work year-round to plan the weekend. A committee of 96 students and Special Olympics athletes worked since February to bring this event to life.
Over 150 vans and busses were transported to Villanova University throughout the entire weekend, bringing athletes from across the state.
"The spirit of Villanova comes alive during the Special Olympics Weekend. It is such a special time on campus for the whole Villanova community," stated Allison Venella, Director of Student-Athlete Development for Villanova Athletics. "It's an extraordinary time for our student-athletes to encourage the spirit of competition amongst the Special Olympic athletes that come to our campus from across the state of Pennsylvania."
The competitions begin on Friday and following the competitions are the Opening Ceremonies, which give the student-athletes the opportunity to connect with the participants on the first night. Over 200 Villanova student-athletes were in attendance at the Opening Ceremonies.
Throughout the weekend, many Villanova Athletic teams cheered on the Special Olympics competitors in six sports: bocce, long distance running/walking, powerlifting, roller skating, soccer, and volleyball. Members of the football team volunteered before and after their win at Maine. Jessica Ritchie, the Festival Director says, "This past weekend, 1,100 Special Olympics athletes from 38 delegations across Pennsylvania came to campus. The Special Olympics athletes united with 6,000 volunteers in a celebration of life, joy, and sport. The positive energy on campus was contagious." Ritchie is "incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Festival Director and form friendships with so many Special Olympics athletes."
Senior captain of the men's tennis team, Luis Miranda believes, "It was truly a blessing to be part of the 28th Annual Special Olympics; It is a tradition like no other. It gives the chance for Villanova student-athletes and the Villanova Community to come together for a good cause."
Callie Duliba, a senior captain on the women's soccer team and member of the leadership team for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee says: "My experience volunteering with Special Olympics was great! I'm so happy to be a part of the largest Special Olympics here at Villanova. I love meeting and cheering on the Special Olympic athletes. It makes me proud to be a part of this amazing university."
"It never ceases to amaze me how the campus is able to transform the weekend of Fall Fest. As a member of the student committee, our mission is to spread the Special Olympics movement and promote awareness about the cause, and although our goal is to directly serve and highlight the athletic abilities of the Special Olympic Athletes of PA, as a byproduct of our work we see the Villanova community proactively reaching out to see how they can get involved as well. It's important to know that Fall Festival is not a Special Olympics Committee thing, it's a Villanova thing. Fall Fest would not be nearly as memorable and rewarding for the Special Olympics Athletes if it were not for the thousands of Villanova students who, through interactions in O-town or at the competition members, make a resounding impact on of all of our Special Olympics Athletes. It's very rewarding to see our own athletes celebrating the abilities and talents of the Special Olympics Athletes throughout the entire weekend, whether it be at the awards venues or accompanying them on the procession during opening ceremonies. The Special Olympics athletes love to see our athletes, and our athletes do a great job of making them feel at home, and for that I am extremely grateful for," states Matt Zabloudil, the Competition Committee Chair.