UNC Asheville Bulldogs Men’s Soccer hosted Buncombe County Special Olympics athletes for a training camp and friendly match at Greenwood Soccer Field on the university’s campus during a recent Sunday afternoon. It was a scene of mutual admiration as many Special Olympics athletes are huge fans of the Bulldogs – and vice versa. The annual tradition aims to empower Special Olympics athletes to stay active through sports in an environment of support, encouragement, and fun.
“Working with Special Olympics athletes was an incredible way for the team to give back to a part of the community that has constantly shown support for us and the rest of the teams on campus,” said Kyle Adams, team captain for the Bulldogs. “Their lively and fun nature certainly rubbed off on our group. I hope the experience was as rewarding for them as it was for us.”
UNC Asheville Head Coach Mathes Mennell echoes that sentiment, adding, “To be able to celebrate these athletes and to spend time sharing and enjoying the sport we all love so much is truly amazing.”
Athletes and players from both programs were divided into small groups at the beginning of the day. After introductions, everyone participated in skills drills and practice. Buncombe County Special Olympics oversees a popular soccer program with athletes showing considerable handling and powerful energy. The group divided into two teams mixed with members of the UNC Asheville Bulldogs and Special Olympics athletes for a friendly match.
“The guys really were connecting with the athletes and enjoyed spending time with them,” said UNC Asheville’s Frank Morales. “I think it’s very beneficial for everyone to get involved in some type of event like this because it is humbling and opens your eyes about life. That life isn’t just about your work, school, or sport; there is a humane piece of life that we lack sometimes.”
When Special Olympics began in 1968, there were limited opportunities for those with a disability to be included in sports in a significant way. As part of the organization’s 50th anniversary last year, it launched a five-year campaign titled “Inclusion Revolution,” aimed at ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities and to promote a more fully inclusive world.
“We are getting closer and closer to a world in which our athletes are accepted with no second thought – a place where they are looked at for their abilities, not their disabilities,” said Karla Furnari of Buncombe County Recreation Services, who is also a Buncombe County Special Olympics coach and Local Coordinator. “Partners like the UNC Asheville Bulldogs provide opportunities for our athletes to interact with collegiate-level soccer players in a way that is natural, meaningful, and will stick with them as a great memory.”
Buncombe County Special Olympics is made possible through funding from donors and support from Buncombe County Government. To donate or volunteer, visit buncombecountyspecialolympics.org.
Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy in 1968 to celebrate changing attitudes about the talents of people with intellectual disabilities. Buncombe County Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for youth and adults. Sports include alpine skiing and snowboarding, aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cheerleading, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, and tennis. The organization also offers the Adaptive Athlete Program in a partnership with South Slope CrossFit and Buncombe County Recreation Services.