The Washington and Lee women's soccer team has jumped on the opportunity to participate in a new and exciting campus partnership, connecting NCAA Division III student-athletes with local Special Olympians.
Emily Hatcher, a Special Olympian from neighboring Natural Bridge was named a "General for a Day" during the General's game Wednesday against Randolph College, the kickoff for W&L athletics' participation in the initiative.
Special Olympics campus representative Dory Blackey, a senior member of the women's soccer team, is excited to see the project take off.
"There is a great energy about developing this relationship and making it a meaningful and worthwhile," Blackey says. "The athletic department, coaches and student-athletes are jumping right in and making things happen."
The purpose of the NCAA initiative is to enrich the lives of Special Olympics athletes through their involvement with Division III student-athletes and to foster a mutual learning experience between Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes.
Emily, a sixth-grade student at Maury River Middle School, has been a member of Special Olympics for over a year and is also active in bowling and basketball programs in the area. When Rockbridge Area Special Olympics organizer Michelle Hughes contacted Emily's family with the opportunity, they jumped on board.
"I think I was just as excited as Emily," says her mom, Daye. "Special Olympics has provided a wealth of opportunities for Emily, and we were excited for her to interact with the soccer team [at W&L]."
Adds Hughes, “It is important for others to see our athletes as part of the community and to recognize the determination, intelligence, and skill each player has.”
Emily started her day as a General with a special visit from a group of women's soccer players. Blackey, juniors Ainsley Daigle and Katie Howard and first-year Katherine Rush enjoyed lunch with Emily at Maury River Middle School and presented her with a team shirt to wear to the match that afternoon.
Emily participated in the team's warm-up and had the opportunity to jump in on the Generals' team picture. She then took part in the pregame coin toss with the captains, and spent the remainder of the contest on the bench, cheering the Generals on to an 8-0 victory.
"It was great having Emily on the sidelines," Blackey says. "I could tell that Emily was loving it by the way she loosened up to the players on the sidelines as the game went on.
"We were very happy to share this part of our life with Emily, as we are so fortunate to participate in athletics in the competitive way that we do everyday."
With the success of the first "General for a Day" event, the W&L SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) leaders are hopeful that it will spread to other sports and the W&L community, throughout the year. In addition to having teams host Special Olympics athletes, W&L will host a fundraising effort for Rockbridge Special Olympics during the Lee-Jackson Classic men's lacrosse game on Friday, October 21 at Wilson Field. More details about the fundraising efforts will be released as the game nears.
"We have had a considerable amount of interest from non-athlete members of the student body who are coming aboard as volunteers in coaching and fundraising as well," says Blackey. "I really think the Special Olympics campaign at W&L will provide a unique opportunity for anyone on campus to get involved."